Maple, the taste behind the happy memories of everything from lazy snow days to retro diner breakfasts, has moved from a nostalgic favorite to a popular flavor trend. Spurred by interest from both health-conscious eaters and those who want to consume a pre-contact indigenous diet, maple syrup is now appreciated as the ultimate “local” ingredient for North Americans.
“Maple syrup is produced in a narrow band in North America that straddles the United States-Canadian border,” says Teresa Marrone, author of Modern Maple (The Northern Plate). “Other places in the world have maple trees, but only a particular climate allows for the production of syrup.” In these colder climates, maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter, then convert the starch to sugar that rises in the sap each spring. Drilling holes in the trees allows the sap to be collected, when it’s then reduced and concentrated through heating.
Grade B is best
Marrone, who taps her own city tree each year, notes that maple is even appearing as bottled maple water, which is the unboiled sap of the trees. “It’s a very subtle flavor, noticeably sweet and a little woodsy,” she notes. Maple syrup is graded, and Marrone recommends always using Grade B, especially for baking. “It’s twice as strong in flavor, so you get more flavor with less liquid.”
How does the maple author like to cook with the syrup she makes? “You can’t go wrong with the traditional uses, such as in baked beans or as a baste for ham,” she says. “But I also like to use it with vegetables. It plays really well with savory spices like mustard, thyme and paprika. It goes with a lot of things you might not initially think it would.”
From cauliflower to cocktails
One of Marrone’s favorite uses for maple syrup is as an ingredient in sautéed cauliflower. She fries bacon, then adds cauliflower florets (flat on one side), and sautés them with a “pretty good slug” of Grade B maple syrup and some generous grinds of black pepper. “It’s one of the most popular recipes in Modern Maple,” she adds.
Maple syrup is also turning up in many modern cocktails. “It goes well with brown liquor like whiskey and scotch,” Marrone observes. “I’ve tasted an Old Fashioned made with it. Juniper berries are a botanical from which gin is made, so I would think it might make an interesting addition to gin cocktails, too.”
Sap for the future
The interest in maple is sparking experimentation with syrups from other trees. “Birch syrup has been turning up as an ingredient, too. It’s not sweet – it’s more like blackstrap molasses, with a little peppermint tang. It makes a dynamite cocktail.”
Combine Marzetti® Sriracha Bourbon Sauce with maple syrup to create Spicy Maple Bourbon Sauce.
“With a strong pedigree of premium attributes, maple has the golden touch,” according to this article in Flavor & The Menu
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