Spring in New England means galvanized buckets and spigots hanging from the area Maple trees. When the sun begins to melt from the rays of the spring sun, sap begins to flow in the maple trees, making it the ideal time to make maple syrup. Maine maple syrup is lauded for its smooth flavor and rich color, and it is considered to be the best in the world. Pure Maine maple syrup is, indeed, a true treat for anyone- and once you taste it, you will never buy any other kind of syrup again.
Some things that distinguish Maine maple syrup include the following:
A Lasting, Local Maine Legacy
Mainers have been making maple syrup for generations, and it is reported that the native Americans throughout the region showed the early settlers the process to keep the tradition alive. The best type of tree for tapping and extracting sap are the Sugar Maples, which have sap with the highest sugar content among the varieties of maples in the state. Extracting the sap doesn’t harm the tree, and the tree has an inherent ability to heal itself and close the small holes used for inserting taps during syrup season. When the maple tree begins to bud, in the early spring, syrup season is over for the year. Time is of the essence, however, and once the sap has been extracted from the tree, it must be used within a few hours or it can spoil. During syrup season, it is not unusual to see farmers and syrup-makers work around-the-clock, until the season winds down. Traditionally, the syrup is hung from trees in buckets and boiled down over a wood-burning fire. It is important to carefully watch the syrup to check its sugar density and viscosity before filtering the syrup. The syrup is then hot-packed and graded for sale on the consumer market.
Maine’s Sweet Industry
Maine is recognized as having some of the strictest standards regarding the mandatory maple syrup laws; inspectors enforce and assist in maintaining these standards and demand superior quality in the state’s maple products. Typically, the maple syrup season in Maine lasts around six weeks, though the weather dictates when sap will produce and when it is ready for extraction. Freezing night temperatures and warmer daytime weather is what keeps the sap flowing, and this happens anytime from late February to early spring in April. If it pains you to see these majestic maples with taps bored in their trunks, don’t dismay- at the end of maple syrup season, these taps are removed and the tree heals itself, closing up the tap-holes naturally.
Various Grades And Uses
Maple syrup is classified by its grade, which is different in Maine than it is in Vermont or Canada. While these other locales use a grading system, it varies from the way that Maine syrup is ranked. For instance, what is considered Grade A “fancy” maple syrup in Vermont is ranked as being a light amber in the state of Maine. These grades have to do with the color of the syrup, which directly impacts the flavor and subsequent uses for the syrup. For instance, dark amber has a richer, deeper flavor that holds up well in baking while a medium amber syrup is ideal for pancakes and using as a table syrup. Lighter colored maple syrup has a more delicate flavor than the darker, more “robust” variety.
Maine Maple Products
The rich flavor of maple is used to enhance a number of maple products beyond syrup. For instance, granulated Maine maple sugar is used for baking, sprinkling, and reconstituting for syrup any time the urge strikes. Maple sugar candy is made from the extracted syrup and boiled, then poured into unique and whimsical molds for the sweet treats. If you add cream during the boiling process and stir, you will produce pure maple cream. Spread a little maple cream on warm toast for a cold-weather snack that satisfies any sweet tooth!
Maple syrup is also being paired with bourbon or whiskey for distinctive liquors and spirits that have a hint of maple goodness that goes splendidly with ginger ale or ginger beer, and that gives your holiday eggnog a sweet bite. Maple syrup adds another layer of depth to flavor profiles, such as in meat marinades or various types of tea.
A Healthful Treat
Another reason that Maine maple syrup is a must-have in the pantry is the fact that it is a completely plant-based food item, which is important for those following vegan, gluten-free, and plant-based diets. There are no preservatives in pure Maine maple syrup, so it should be kept in a cool dry place once opened. Since pure maple syrup won’t freeze, stash some in the freezer to keep it until ready to use. Maple syrup offers more nutrients and vitamins than other sweeteners, including vitamin D, Vitamin B, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, and folic acid. Research has suggested that it contains Phytohormone Abscisic Acid, or ABA, which could be beneficial to health. ABA helps to control blood sugar levels and stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas. Other minerals found in Maine maple syrup include potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. There are also antioxidants in maple syrup, including manganese and zinc, which contribute to a healthy immune system. Add a splash of maple syrup to a hot toddy or cup of tea for an added boost that could help keep colds and flu at bay this winter.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait until spring for the sweet maple nectar to grace your table and pantry; maple syrup is available in limited supply online and from farms, retailers, and specialty food stores across the state of Maine. Consider giving someone a gift of the best maple syrup that they have tasted- it may start a holiday tradition that you honor year after year!