Posted by: Glow-worm PJ28 NOV 2012
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a deciduous hardwood tree native to north-eastern North America. It is notable for its spectacular autumn foliage and as a source of maple syrup.
Maple syrup was an integral part of Native American life, and “sugaring time”, when the sap was extracted, was a festive occasion. Entire encampments often moved to the areas in which the trees were tapped. Gashes were cut in the bark, and the thin watery sap collected in wooden troughs at the base of the trees.
The sap was concentrated in one of two ways; either by boiling, using fire-heated rocks dropped into the collection troughs, or by freezing, whereby the sap was allowed to freeze in shallow vessels, and the frozen water removed at intervals until a thick, brown syrup formed beneath.
Maple syrup became an important form of currency, and the Native Americans traded what they called “sweetwater” with the colonists. Its popularity in North America has hardly waned since.
Recent research has suggested that maple syrup contains dozens of compounds that are beneficial to health. In 2011, research at the University of Rhode Island, funded by the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, identified more than 50 beneficial compounds, including phenolic antioxidants.
It is suggested that the tapping mechanism, which is in effect an assault on the tree, could stimulate the production of these antioxidants as a defence mechanism. Boiling the sap concentrates these active compounds further.
Some of these polyphenols have the ability to inhibit certain carbohydrate hydrolysing enzymes, which leads to a reduction in the conversion rate of starch into glucose, therefore slowing the postprandial rise in blood glucose levels. It is hoped that these or related compounds could have a future role in the treatment of diabetes.