Hello my friends! I’m headed back south to DC today after spending the week up in Quebec, Canada, on a press trip with my friends from Pure Canadian Maple Syrup. I have been working with them since last year (see also: Healthier Maple Brownie Cookies + Matt’s Maple Cinnamon Latte), so when they invited me up to learn more about the maple syrup production process in person, I was all about it. A big thank you to them for covering my expenses for this trip/sponsoring this post!
We did and learned a TON this week, so it was hard to boil it down/pick the highlights and main takeaways, but I did my best. 🙂 You can see more of the adventures over on my Instagram page as well!
Pure Maple Syrup Nutrition
As a dietitian, one of my favorite parts of the trip, of course, was learning more about the nutritional benefits of 100% pure maple syrup! There’s a big difference between syrups on the shelf at the grocery store, by the way. Make sure you are buying 100% real/pure maple syrup, which is a natural product that comes directly from maple trees with nothing else added, versus artificial breakfast “syrups” which are highly processed and made from corn syrup. Those definitely don’t have the nutritional benefits I’m about to talk about. 🙂
Fun nutrition facts about 100% pure maple syrup:
- It’s high in over 60 types of disease-fighting antioxidants, which contain anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-diabetes properties.
- It is the only sweetener with minerals – it’s a particularly excellent source of manganese (which helps keep bones strong, your brain healthy, and nerves functioning properly) and riboflavin (aka vitamin B2 – it protects cells and is necessary for energy production, too).
- It contains polyphenols, which are beneficial compounds also found in things like berries, tea, and red wine.
We got to sample some of the sports-focused recipes developed by the dietitian who works with the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Mélanie Olivier. (She was awesome, by the way – loved meeting her!) I really loved the homemade maple sports drink (<— click for recipe) that she developed!
Maple Syrup Production
On Tuesday morning, we visited CDL, an organic maple farm that is a leader in maple sugaring equipment. It was fascinating to see all that goes into extracting the maple water from the trees – check out all this tubing! CDL’s owner, Mr. Chabot, told us that they have 2 million feet of tubing and 100,000 taps. Crazy! He was super high tech, too – he can control all the tube equipment via his phone!
Did you know that it’s not maple syrup that’s extracted from the trees, but rather maple water? (Which is delicious, by the way, and available in the US now!) That maple water is then boiled down to make maple syrup, maple sugar, etc. I always used to think the syrup itself was what came right out of the tree!
Each tap on a tree at CDL averages about 3 pounds of maple syrup per year. No more than 10% of any tree’s sap is taken – any more would be detrimental to the tree.
We also got to experience maple tapping on the smaller scale (using buckets instead of the tubing system) when visiting sugar shacks around Quebec. Like the name implies, sugar shacks are small cabins or a series of cabins, belonging to farms, where the sap collected from the sugar maple trees is boiled down into maple syrup.
One of the other stops on our trip was to the Maple Syrup Producer’s Cooperative company, Citadelle. They are the world’s largest supplier of 100% pure maple syrup, and their syrup can be found in many mainstream stores in the US, including Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Costco, Publix, and more. They collect sap from over 7 million maple trees across Canada, and their headquarters visit gave us a taste (literally) of all the different types of maple products they offer, plus some insight into the production process. Did you know that it takes 40 liters of maple water to make 1 liter of pure maple syrup?
Also, maple syrup grades aren’t related to quality, but rather flavor/taste intensity! The variation has to do with when the maple syrup sap was tapped; sap tapped at the beginning of the harvest season (which is only about 20 to 25 days, usually in March/April) is generally clearer and lighter in taste. For drinks and pancakes, you’ll want to use Grade A syrup, either light or medium. The Grade B/dark varieties are much stronger and better suited for baking.
Food Highlights/Creative Ways to Cook with Pure Maple Syrup
This was quite the foodie trip, with a big focus on maple, of course, so I will finish off this post with some of my favorite things that we ate. I need to try to recreate some of this back at home!
Maple marinated beets // lunch appetizer at Chez Boulay in Quebec
That restaurant was wonderful, by the way – the chef only sources food/cooking products from around Quebec, to support local businesses. Love it!
Maple roasted turnips // dinner appetizer at Panache Restaurant in the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel in Old Quebec
I am normally not a huge turnip fan, but loved these! Also, Panache was absolutely gorgeous (as was the hotel) – so cozy and beautiful. Definitely worth a visit!
Smoked salmon with maple and tangerine jelly // dinner appetizer at Restaurant la Traite in the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, a really neat boutique Aboriginal hotel near Quebec. I absolutely love maple with salmon!
Lobster with maple whiskey braised pork, black lentils, kale, and pearl onions // dinner at Renoir in the lovely hotel Sofitel Montreal.
This entree, made for us by Chef Olivier Perret (a Maple Master), was my absolute favorite dinner of the trip – SO delicious.
“Beggars Chicken” scented with maple leaves // dinner at restaurant L’Orée du Bois in the Outaouais region.
This wins for most creative dish of the trip! It was chicken slow cooked in clay, which was lined with lotus leaves. Neat, right? They crack it open in front of you at the table before plating it! This restaurant was adorable, too – very cozy!
Maple taffy, aka tire d’érable, is a Quebec sugar shack specialty. To make it, you pour hot maple syrup over snow, then roll it onto a stick. Very sweet but insanely delicious! A few licks of it was perfect. 🙂
Sugar shacks are really cool, by the way – they reminded me a lot of European ski lodges. Hearty comfort food at its finest! Apparently it’s tradition for families and groups to go enjoy (enormous) meals at them during the maple harvest season.
The maple baked ham hock in the photo below from La Tablee des Pionniers was insane in the best way possible. Mmmm! Lunch there was such a cool experience – if you are ever nearby, go!
Other maple cooking/recipe ideas:
- Use pure maple syrup instead of sugar in homemade tomato/pasta sauce, ketchup, BBQ sauce, lemonade, etc.
- In baked goods, to swap in pure maple syrup in place of dry sugar in a recipe, use the same amount of syrup as you would have of sugar (1:1 swap), but take out 1/4 cup of any kind of liquid in the recipe (water, milk, whatever – or you could just use 1/4 cup less maple syrup if you don’t mind a less sweet product – that’s probably what I’d do!). Also, decrease the baking temperature by 25 degrees F.
- To swap in pure maple syrup in place of another liquid sweetener, simply do a 1:1 swap and decrease the baking temperature by 25 degrees F.
- Drizzle maple syrup over oatmeal or plain yogurt.
Last but not least, here are some recipes already on my blog that are sweetened only with maple syrup:
- Almond Butter Banana Breakfast Bars
- Oatmeal Banana Coconut Cookies
- Maple Cinnamon Roasted Veggies
- Matt’s Maple Cinnamon Latte
- Nutty Protein Granola Bars
- Spiced Cranberry Compote Oatmeal
- Vegan & Gluten Free Granola Bars
- Healthier Maple Brownie Cookies
- Oatmeal Banana Pumpkin Cookies
- Banana Nut Quinoa Muffins
And now, to cap off this post, I have a fun giveaway for you guys! Two lucky fANNEtastic blog readers will receive an awesome maple swag bag, full of a bunch of the fun maple products that we had the pleasure of sampling this week. Use the Rafflecopter giveaway below to enter to win; I’ll contact winners directly when the giveaway ends. U.S. residents only, please. We figure you Canadian readers enjoy this stuff every day! 😉