It's Maple Sugar Season!
One of my favorite times of the year is maple sugaring season. Not only because my family has been sugaring as long as I can remember, and then some, but also because I know it's the last of winter and spring won't be far along.
Pure maple syrup is my go-to sweeter because it's natural and minimally processed. At a very basic level, you take sap from maple trees, and boil it down at a ratio of about 38:1, filter it and you've got syrup. There's nothing artificial added to it.
And, maple syrup has some surprising health benefits, including containing as many as 24 different antioxidants. According to Dr. Axe "The antioxidants found in maple syrup are mostly in the form of phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds are found in a variety of plant foods — including berries, nuts and whole grains — and are considered to have significant benefits when it comes to the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. They are capable of reducing free radical damage that can cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various chronic diseases." Darker syrups typically contains more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups.
So what's the difference between dark syrup and light syrup?
Early in the season you tend to get lighter syrup that is higher in sugar with less maple taste. This light syrup is called "Golden Delicate" under the current grading standards and makes the best maple candy.
The next grade is Amber Rich, a good balance between sweet and maple. This mid-season syrup is the flavor most people think of when they think of maple syrup and most often used on pancakes and french toast.
Dark Robust can come along anywhere mid-season or later and to me is the best of the grades. It is a little stronger in the maple flavor and just a smidge less sweet. I use this one everywhere. In baking, in my coffee, smoothies, and as a table syrup.
Last up is the end of season Very Dark. This is what used to be the old "grade B" for cooking and flavoring. With that said, I do know folks who use this over pancakes too. It's all a matter of personal preference.
So take a break as the season spreads across the Berkshires and visit your local sugar house. Watch the process of making it, ask questions, and sample their products.
And if you're looking for a sweet treat, try making Maple Milk. It's just like making chocolate milk, but you replace the over processed chocolate syrup with the same amount of maple syrup, add your favorite milk and stir. (I myself have been making it with almond milk lately and it's pretty darn good that way.)
As the season unfolds, I'll be adding some maple syrup to the site for purchase so check back in a couple weeks if you'd like to order some here for delivery.