Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Maple Syrup 101

Grades of Vermont maple syrup. From left to ri...
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Submitted by Elaine Hirsch, maple syrup aficionado

Many people grow up using maple syrup substitutes on their toast, pancakes, waffles, or other foods, and may have never even tasted the rich flavor of real maple syrup. There is no high-fructose corn syrup in real maple syrup, just tree sap. Maples, especially sugar maples, are tapped for their sugary sap which rises once winter is over and the tree doesn’t need to store starch any longer to survive. To collect the sap, holes are drilled into trees so when the sap rises, it will drip out through a spigot and into a bucket or tube that’s been hammered or drilled into the tree.

Once the sap is collected, it’s boiled down to make syrup. Maple syrup comes in several different grades according to lightness, and the names of grades are different depending on where the syrup comes from. Generally, you can always trust that the lightest-colored syrup is much better to cook with than to drizzle over pancakes, although this lighter syrup (often called Vermont Fancy or Grade AA syrup) is pretty good over ice cream or on other foods that allow the subtle flavor to come out. Darker syrups are less refined, and the darker they are the stronger they taste of maple. These are the best for table use because of their strong flavor, but are harder to find outside of states and provinces where trees are regularly tapped. Fortunately, because they’re less refined, they’re also usually cheaper than the lighter grades, which is good considering the generally high price of syrup these days. It’s a seasonal product, and recent bad winters have made the trees run through more starch to survive. It doesn’t take anonline PhD to understand that prices are higher as a result. The lower grades are also really good poured into milk and stirred for a tasty drink.

Although everyone knows about syrup and breakfast foods, most people don’t realize that maple syrup can be used in other cooking as well. While it’s easiest to cook with the more refined syrup grades, you can also cook with the lower grades, although they are much more viscous and can be difficult to manage as a result. You can make anything from pies to pot stickers, and depending on the amount of maple flavor you want to impart you can choose your grade accordingly.

Here’s an absolutely delicious marinated salmon barbecue:

You’ll need:
A grill
1/3 cup maple syrup (I recommend grade B)
1/3 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
At least 3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 (8 ounce) salmon fillets

First, mix all the ingredients except for the salmon. Take a 1/2 cup out and put it aside for basting later, and then add the salmon and seal it to marinate. Leave it for at least three hours, turning it over occasionally. Preheat a grill on high and lightly oil the grate. Sesame oil is a good choice but any oil will do, or you could even use even butter. Put the salmon on and cook each side for about 7 to 8 minutes depending on how thick the filets are. Continue to baste with the leftover sauce as they go.

Maple syrup is a much healthier and more flavorful alternative to Mrs. Butterworth and other artificially flavored high-fructose corn syrups. As well as having 68% less carbohydrates, it also retains most of the healthy nutrients of the original sap, so it’s a much better choice.

Leave a comment if you’ve tried any unusual maple recipes of your own.

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