So why maple syrup, Ted?
I love maple syrup for a variety of reasons – the purity, the nostalgia, its simplicity in contrast to its oh-so-delicious complexity. It may sound silly, but the memories maple syrup provides back to my homeland of New England as I gallivant the world offers a true taste of home regardless where I’m stationed noshing my ‘cakes!
Throughout these travels, domestic and abroad, I’m frequently surprised when people don’t know the difference between real maple syrup and artificial “maple flavored” syrup. It’s not like different shades of gray. No my friends, real versus fake are absolutely worlds apart. The good stuff is a single ingredient, collected and boiled down from the sap, the very lifeblood, of maple trees. The bad stuff is an unworldly chemical mixture of dozens of ingredients synthetically attempting to mimic the former. Former: good. Latter: bad.
Not yet knowing the difference makes perfect sense. There you are strolling the grocery store aisle and see Aunt Jemima loyally standing at attention slapped with paltry $3.99 price tag. Meanwhile adjacent to that is either the characteristic glass bottle or opaque characteristic jug filled with 100% pure maple syrup priced at nearly $20. Sticker shock hits abruptly as you instinctively reach towards Ms. Jemima while thinking, “Cheap as dirt and just as good!” Dead wrong. You get what you pay for. Do NOT go for the fake stuff.
The critical distinction here is found in the word syrup. With this general term, “syrup” enters the unwelcoming realm of corn syrup. Courtesy of the Aunt Jemimas, the Ms. Butterworths, or Log Cabin brands decaying children’s teeth everywhere, corn syrup is listed as many as three times in the ingredients. There’s guaranteed to be corn syrup, generally followed by high fructose corn syrup, and for some nonsensical reason I’ve seen plenty of times corn syrup listed once again! That’s a) gross and b) just foolish. Oh right, and c) gross. So the sub-five dollar bottle you see is thanks in very large part to the government subsidized corn, improbably turned into corn syrup, and sold by ENORMOUS food manufacturers like Kraft.
…or worse yet is when it’s made sugar-free and therefore laced with more 10+ letter words in the ingredient list than I care to ingest. Not to mention anything with the word “artificial” in it. Gag.
Meanwhile there is the the wonderfully natural world of pure maple syrup, in which there is just one simple ingredient: 100% maple syrup. Let’s take that further. Maple syrup implies it’s from a maple tree. So please don’t ignore the fact that while most major global industry and even the expansion of industrial farming has decimated vast forests, the exact opposite holds true for the making of maple syrup; you need the forest to generate the product. Just like bike riding, maple syrup is good for the planet.
The fact that maple syrup is water soluble is mighty convenient as well. No sticky, disgusting mess when cleaning up after an aggressive morning of pancakes. Just smiles and a warm cloth. Meanwhile, the stringy, artificial residue all glommed up atop the plastic bottle of the fake stuff and all over the counter after Sunday morning waffles with a bunch of six-years olds is every mother’s worst nightmare. (I’m not a mother myself, so I’m just guessing cleaning up the aftermath of fake maple syrup is every mother’s worst nightmare, ranking somewhere right above kidnapping and head-lice.)
Okay I admit that’s a stretch. But now hold on a tic… think about that nasty cup-of-chemicals you’re ingesting with that filthy pile of ingredients seen in the fake stuff above. An honest to goodness PhD chemist put together the artificial color, sweetener, and flavor amalgamation to generate the junk that comes flowing from Aunt Jemima’s head. Whereas there’s a salt-of-the-earth New Englander or friendly Canadian, wearing a red and black checkered plaid parka, and who utters phrases laced with geezum crow’s and wicked’s, who collected the sap from maple trees all over his wooded property, and who then boiled it down to the liquid gold called pure maple syrup. I’m not kidding here, you pour the two syrups, real and fake, over your morning pancakes and you can literally see the difference in the products as they drip to the plate.
Real Maple Syrup acts in an of-this-world, naturally flowing, waterous manner.
Fake Maple Flavored Syrup is a stringy, drippy, foul, unnatural, saccharine disaster ruining a hot stack of pancakes.
I touched on it above, but how is real maple syrup made? There’s often a family, a story, and a rich history behind the making of maple syrup. A mighty fine testament to that, the Cochran family of Vermont will teach you all you want to know about syrup right here.
I talked about the nostalgia. I vividly remember visiting “Sam” in rural, central New Hampshire with my family as a little kid. Sam is the father of my mother’s best friend and in the late spring with snow still dotting the ground we would visit his maple sugaring shack. Consisting of a basic single room, you step in from the outside chill, and are immediately met with a rich steam hanging in the air. Sam oversees the boiler, continually feeding the fire with a floor to ceiling stack of logs. Taking a knee to greet me, his massive, aged hand dwarfs mine as we shake. No factory chemist here, just good people. With that sort of experience, it’s impossible not to have an ear-to-ear grin and embrace the history and story that goes into the making of maple syrup.
And what if I were to tell you that maple syrup actually provides a considerable nutritional benefit? Try extracting anything out of corn syrup besides diabetes and a cavity! Already teeming in antioxidants, the spectrum of minerals naturally abundant in maple syrup is impressive. Study after academic (and delicious) study shows just how rewardingly complex maple syrup truly is. Click here for just one such result or for more resuls than you might ever have imagined, Google “nutrition real maple syrup versus fake”.
The caloric content is on par with that of gels and energy gus, and yet maple syrup is still just one simple ingredient. When making energy shots, similarly to fake maple syrup, there’s some chemist taking an already overprocessed ingredient like brown rice syrup (what IS that?!), and then is forced to enhanced that wretched sweetener with supplemental flavors, vitamins, and mineral necessary in the making of energy shots. Or there’s pure maple syrup.
I’m often asked brand I prefer. By now my answer is rote: I profess as long as there is one ingredient, ahem… 100% pure maple syrup, then I am a happy camper. Sure, there are different grades which vary from the United States to Canada, and yes I have my preference (New Hampshire or Vermont’s Grade B… or Grade A Dark Amber under the new system), but as long as it’s from a tree, it’s the right stuff.
So now it’s your turn. Go to the store, take the very worthy ten-plus-dollar plunge, and buy pure maple syrup. The best place to get it is from a trip to New England an independent producing sugaring shack like Sam’s. But this day in age, you can get maple syrup everywhere. Every freakin’ grocery store nation wide has it, Wal-Mart, Costco, Trader Joe’s all have it. I’ve seen it at gas stations and pharmacies and most New England airports have it amid their novelty t-shirts and Boston baked beans. Heck, globalization has it worldwide. Whether it’s Canadian or New England or Pennsylvanian or Wisconsin’ian, it’s going to be worthy. Next, with bottle in hand I emphatically encourage you to put a few drops on a spoon and try it. The flavor is complex and rich and divine. If you have fake maple syrup clogging up your pantry shelf, pour a few drops onto the spoon and taste the difference. Then proceed to gag, and in all seriousness, next pour it down the drain.
Oatmeal is a great place to start your day with maple syrup. Piping hot maple syrup is something truly great; heat up a cup of maple syrup in the microwave or on the stove and pour that over you pancakes and waffles. It’s exquisite. Put a little (…or a lot) on vanilla ice cream for an amazing dessert. Start your day with some plain cottage cheese or plain yogurt, fresh fruit, and maple syrup stirring up in a bowl. Bacon and maple syrup? Divine. Finish your sauteed Brussels sprouts or kale with a drizzle of maple syrup. It’s an awesome way to spice up your homemade BBQ sauce, or more applicably to the day to day, a spoonful or two in your homemade balsamic salad dressing. Like cocktails? Bourbon and maple are a mean one-two combination. Instead of sugar, put a splash in your coffee. Any sort of baked good that calls for brown sugar — pumpkin pie, blondies, sweet breads, etc — are all elevated to a new level of Whoa! with maple syrup. Or just put it on the spoon again and give it another run through the taste test. Yup, still good.
Next up, I’m bringing maple syrup to the European ProTour…’s hair stylists.