Tapping into the Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Ahhhhhh… The sweet liquid gold that makes pancakes, waffles or even drizzled over a sweet potato all taste amazing!
Of course, I am talking about maple syrup!
Sugar maple sap is one of the few agricultural commodities that can be harvested while there is still snow on the ground. This annual rite of spring generally commences in early March when the days begin to grow warmer and nights remain cold. The pattern of freezing and thawing temperatures causes pressure to build up in the trees until there is an eventual outpouring of sap. The season usually lasts 4-6 weeks and ends when the sugar maple trees begin to sprout buds.
Sap looks like water and has only a slightly sugary flavor. It is the boiling process that produces the syrup. During the boiling process, much of the water evaporates and the sap becomes sweeter and thicker.
Sap can be collected from a few different species of maple trees but it is the sugar maple that produces the most flavorful syrup. New England and the Canadian province of Quebec are most well known for their maple products.
Vermont is the leading producer in New England—the sugar maple is even its state tree!
Did you know that maple syrup is more than just a natural sweetener? There are documented health benefits too!
Maple syrup contains polyphenols, plant based antioxidant compounds that possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, two important factors in protecting cells from damage and protecting against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
A University of Rhode Island researcher, Navinda Seeram, discovered a number of beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup that play a key role in human health. He spoke at the 241st American Chemical Society’s National Meeting:
“I continue to say that nature is the best chemist, and that maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it.
It’s important to note that in our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.
We know that the compounds are anti-inflammatory agents and that inflammation has been implicated in several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.”
One compound found in maple syrup, Quebecol ( a name derived from the Canadian province of Quebec) is proving to have potential medicinal properties.
A recent study showed that Quebecol displayed some similarity to the drug tamoxifen which is often used to treat and prevent some types of breast cancer. As is the case with all pharmaceutical drugs, Tamoxifen carries the risk of serious side effects, including increased risk of uterine and gastrointestinal cancers, stroke, blood clots in the lungs and legs and eye damage.
Another recent study shows that maple syrup may inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells and that it might be:
“suitable as a phytomedicine for CRC treatment, with fewer adverse effects than traditional chemotherapy.”
These are just two of many studies confirming the relevance of using natural therapies, sans all of the dangerous side effects, in cancer prevention and treatment. It seems that natural therapies are finally getting the attention they deserve.
Maple syrup is also a great source of minerals, especially zinc and manganese.
Manganese is a trace mineral important for many vital functions including bone development, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, blood sugar control, immune function and collagen production. It is also a co-factor for the enzyme manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), an important antioxidant that helps fight free radicals that damage cells and lead to the development health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
Zinc is also a vital trace mineral essential for a number of functions including cellular metabolism, protein synthesis, healthy immune function and the production of collagen. Sadly, as a result of modern day pollution, the processing of foods, and genetically modified (GM) crops, many people are now zinc deficient.
The ABC’s of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is graded by color and flavor. It used to be an A-B-C grading system but as of 2015, they are all considered Grade A.
- Grade A Golden Delicate Taste (formerly Grade AA or Fancy) is a light amber color and has a mild delicate flavor. It is usually among the first syrups of the season.
- Grade A Amber Rich Taste (formerly Grade A) is a medium amber color, has a mellow flavor and is produced mid-season.
- Grade A Dark Robust Taste (formerly Grade B) is a darker amber color and has a more hearty flavor
- Grade A Very Dark Strong Taste (formerly Grade C) is the darkest colored syrup and has a hearty molasses-like flavor. This grade is produced at the end of the season and is generally sold to candy producers to be made into maple candy.
One study suggests, “Darker syrups tend to contain more beneficial traits and may be applied in developing functional foods and value added products.”
Fun Facts: The Forty-Year Rule
Here are some interesting Maple Syrup facts that I bet you didn’t know:
- Before a maple tree can be safely tapped it must be approximately 40 years old and about 12 inches in diameter.
- Sap begins flowing when temperatures climb above 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and fall below freezing (32F) at night.
- An average 40-year-old maple tree will yield approximately 40 quarts of sap per season.
- It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
Now I don’t know about you, but suddenly I seem to have a craving for maple syrup – hmmm, maybe one of Vermont’s famous maple syrup doughnuts! Yum!
If you would like to learn about the dangers of “maple syrup-like” products (and you just might be surprised) read: Real Maple Syrup vs. Artificial “Maple-Like” Syrup – Not ALL Syrups Are Equal – Some CAN Harm Your Health!