Sweeter Than Sugar

Maple sugaring season may have passed, but it is never too late to talk about all the benefits of ditching sugar for something a little sweeter to your health. Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally detrimental. Neither cane sugar or corn syrup come with any sort of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber. They are in essence empty calories, meaning we make ourselves feel full when we eat them but we don’t give our bodies the nutrients they need to function at their best. Or, even worse, because we crave sweets, we eat more than we need which potentially leads to obesity (especially in children) and the health issues associated with it, like diabetes. Sugary cereals, energy drinks, candies and as a hidden ingredients in breads or crackers can all lead to over-consumption of sugar. It is estimated by the FDA that the average American consumes between 76 and 100 lbs of excess sugar per year (that’s per person folks!). And this number doesn’t include sugars from natural foods, as in honey or fruit.

Not to worry, though, mother nature provides us with a few sweeteners that we can feel good about eating, and some of them are even local. You can reach for raw honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, molasses and maple syrup. If you’re lucky (and live in the northern regions) you can even make your own. I had the pleasure of doing just that this past season and would like to share the process with you here. What I share with you here is local wisdom gathered at backyard sugaring workshops, at farmer’s market workshops and from my friend Ben, whose family owns Intervale Farm in Westhampton, MA. This won’t be full-on instructional, because I don’t think I’ve learned enough to provide that- just a quick re-cap of my sugaring adventures. I will list some resources at the end of the post for those interested.

Answers to some frequently asked questions:
-It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup (see why it’s so expensive?)
-Tap trees when it is beginning to warm up during the day but is still freezing at night. Otherwise, the sap that has risen to the tops of the trees won’t run back down for you to catch (approximately mid February- the end of March).
-Tapping does not hurt the tree when done properly.
-If the taps are left in too long (more than 6-8 weeks), the tree will begin to heal over them.
-Ideally, sap collecting buckets are checked daily for fullness and cleanliness.
-Sap may be a little yellow, but it should not be milky. If it is, dump it in your compost pile.
-Ice may form in your buckets or storage tanks- this is great! Sap doesn’t freeze, water does. –Any frozen water is water you don’t have to boil- just toss it, being sure you don’t toss any of the unfrozen sap.
-Never boil sap in your house- there is WAY too much steam- remember, you are evaporating the water out of the sap, and it has to go somewhere!
-Syrup is graded based on color: Grade A is lighter, milder, takes less energy and time to make, and is more expensive. Grade B is darker and richer, takes more energy and time to make, but is (confusingly) cheaper.
-Maple syrup keeps indefinitely when stored properly- in a cool, dark place.

Books on Sugaring:
“Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide” by Rink Mann and Daniel Wolf
“Sugaring Time” Kathryn Lasky and Christopher G. Night

Www.foodsensitivechildren.com (sugar cycle image)
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/27/business/us-cuts-estimate-of-sugar-intake-of-typical-american.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (sugar consumption article)