Clearing up a sticky mess



So why maple syrup, Ted?

 

buysyrupsummer

 

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.

 

fake as fuk

 

…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.

 

maple-syrup612

 

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”.

 

maple goodness

 

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.



Comments

  1. Connie Laubenthal

    I’m with you! We got our latest jug at a fall festival in Vermont from the people who actually produced it. It is spectacular!

    Reply
  2. Jenny

    What do you think of maple syrup whiskey from a flask on the ski lift?

    Reply
    • iamtedking

      Approved. Crown maple whiskey is a particular favorite of mine.

      Reply
    • iamtedking

      …but let me one up you Jenny. Instead of maple syrup whiskey shots, how about bourbon infused maple syrup? Or a shot of warm bourbon chased with succulent maple syrup? My mouth is watering.

      Reply
  3. Ellie

    YYYYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSSS! Love it! Good job Ted!

    Reply
  4. Becky

    You are preaching to the choir with this one. Thanks for the shout-out.

    Reply
  5. Carl Hofmann

    I think the broccoli-maple syrup-antioxidant connection was particularly compelling. Now you need Justin’s to blend your nut butter with your maple syrup and market it to cyclists…

    Reply
  6. Patrick Brady

    My maternal grandfather, who grew up in Bellows Falls, VT, taught me as a wee munchkin that, “A true Vermonter uses nothing but Grade B.” Out of deference to his good judgement, pure respect for my elders and my love for its rich taste, I purchase nothing else.

    That was a nice piece of work, Ted.

    Reply
    • iamtedking

      That’s my FRIGGING point man. Anything in apostrophes is not maple syrup. That’s garbage and manufactured in a factory and is disgusting. If it ain’t EXCLUSIVELY from a tree, it’s ain’t maple.

      Reply
  7. david penley

    Thanks Ted for sharing the true meaning of New England with the rest of the world. I always tell people there is nothing as good as mother nature’s pure sugar of maple sugar. But please do not forget the wonderful Maine made maple also.

    Reply
  8. Ronald Rutgers

    Really nice to read Ted. 2 years ago I was on a vacation in Canada and I really experienced the difference between Maple Syrup and the other stuff. Since then, I only want the real deal. There is only a problem. As I am living in the Netherland, I only can buy the small bottles. And also finding places to buy the real deal can be difficult. Because not a lot of stores sell it or they try to sell you the crap, hoping you don’t know the difference.
    And now you created a second problem for me. That maybe will be much harder to solve:

    Crown Maple Whisky…….

    As I love Maple Syrup I also love Whisky. So, when those two things are combined you get a lot of love. So I am off on a quest to find me some of that Whisky here in the Netherlands

    Reply
  9. Lyne Bessette

    Ronald! here in Quebec we have the maple Whisky! and its wonderful!
    http://www.sortilegewhisky.com/en/original/

    Lyne

    Reply
  10. BB

    Let me know where to send the Sorghum syrup, it’s delicious, and would love to hear your comparison! It’s wicked good, y’all!

    Reply
  11. Mary Deighan

    Fully agree – nothing but the real stuff! Also hooked on maple butter, maple syrup boiled down to its essence. I like it with a dash of cinnamon but that’s just me.

    Reply
  12. Frank

    The fake stuff is not allowed in my house, a co worker of mine makes his own, I have 8 liters on order from him. Ted let me know if you want some.

    Reply
  13. Noah

    This is great. My mother-in-law will bring her own maple syrup to restaurants if she fears they’ll only have the artificial garbage. This is one of many reasons why I love my in-laws.

    Reply
    • iamtedking

      These comments are only getting better and better!

      My best friend’s father makes maple syrup in his backyard shed. Or sugaring shack, I should say. I got two jars in the past 6 months including one he called the best syrup he’s ever made in his life. That special jar is coming with me to Europe! Yeeeeehaw maple trees!

      Reply
  14. Lee Hodsdon

    Hi Ted,

    Great missive on the syrup of the Gods. Had to include this little nugget, played on April Fools Day, on NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4571982

    It is a classic.

    Have a great season.

    Lee

    Reply
  15. George Straz

    Made the switch a coupla yrs back Ted. A world of difference! Have a great season. All New England cyclists ride vicariously through (& with) you. Rock on!

    Reply
  16. Dennis C

    Here is my question. Does maple syrup from different areas taste different ? For example, soils and climates are different, so this should impact the taste a bit. Last year, I found at a market someone selling cotton candy made out of maple sugar. It was so much better than cotton candy made out of the bland cane sugar. In my youth, there was a candy store that sold maple sugar candy made in Vermont. It was so delicious. Does anyone still mix hot maple syrup with snow?

    Reply
  17. Taylor

    It hurts that you didn’t mention the great state of Maine in this one, Ted.

    Reply
    • iamtedking

      I love Maine maple syrup. I DO mention New England production a half dozen times, of which I’m pretty sure Maine is a geographically large part. I speak about maple syrup from the United States or Canada. I even then go as far as saying, “Whether it’s Canadian or New England or Pennsylvanian or Wisconsin’ian, it’s going to be worthy.” Maine makes great stuff. So does Ohio. Look, one ingredient: I’m happy.

      Reply
  18. BcccBret Maiers

    This is some of your best writing yet Ted! Nothing better than an author who feels genuine passion for their subject and can express it so clearly. I just spent some time in Tucson doing a lot of MTB’n and left a small empty bottle of Ohio maple syrup hanging from one of the “decorated” trailside mesquite trees. Of course I am a little biased but I thought it to be the prettiest ornament on the tree. A couple friends and I make a few gallons of syrup every year on an old cooker and it often comes out with somewhere between a hint and an overload of smokey flavors, but we treat the stuff like gold and have a great time collecting the sap and cooking it down. I would also like to add that the syrup bottle graphic on the back of my red plaid jersey is nothing short of genius and makes me smile every time I put it on. Keep up the good work and best of luck this season. -Bret

    Reply
  19. Dave

    “heat up a cup of maple syrup in the microwave”

    Mon dieu! The chemistry, especially this natural chemistry, must always be respected.

    Reply
  20. Scott

    Very nice read Ted. Since the wife and I started following your exploits many moons ago we have since converted the household to 100% Maple for our Daddy Cakes(Daughter designation for pancakes). Costco takes a little bit of the sting out of the sticker shock but as mentioned above you get what you pay for, looking forward to seeing you hammering on the front of the peloton in France in July.

    Reply
  21. Daniel

    Being from New England and living in New England I get to have maple syrup on my pancakes and sweetening my granola. Nothing else like it, especially the fake stuff, which it resembles only in name.

    Reply
  22. Burton

    Love Crown Maple Syrup. It’s the mother of all M Syrup! And Organic!

    http://www.crownmaple.com

    Reply
  23. Racheal Vincent-Newell

    Off-season training fuel! You’re welcome.
    http://sweetpeaskitchen.com/2013/02/maple-syrup-pancake-muffins/

    Reply
  24. Todd S.

    I just enjoyed a spoonful of the real stuff.. Great article.

    Reply
  25. John V.

    Ted, Thanks for this excellent testimonial. I was so inspired that I dropped two teaspoons of real maple syrup in my cup of tea this morning. I am pretty shocked at how wonderful it is. Everyone should try it. Any black tea mixed with the remarkable goodness of maple syrup is a treat to the tastebuds. Fortunately, my wife shares an affinity for all things pure maple syrup–so we always have a supply of the glorious nectar on hand. Be well. (Oh, what do you use for energy food while riding–it is some form of maple syrup?)

    Reply
    • iamtedking

      Sit tight my friend, your maple syrup ENERGY needs will soon be met! In the meantime, keep sweetening your coffee with the nectar of new England’s finest tree. Thanks for the message my friend.

      Reply
  26. Roger

    Bacon and maple syrup in the same sentence- enough said.
    You local sugarbush might be in for a new look: http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=17209
    Beer, bikes & bacon- living the dream up here in Ol Wisco …

    Reply

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