Maple syrup is a sweet, natural product that many people enjoy on their breakfast, in their cooking, and in a host of other ways. However, maple syrup has been of interest to scientific researchers too for its properties and potential uses. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting scientific properties surrounding maple.
To begin, science goes into the syrup making process. Maple sap is collected from maple trees and funneled into stainless steel containers. This sap is predominantly water, 98% to be exact. So, in order to speed up the evaporation process the sap is run through a reverse osmosis machine. Osmosis deals with the movement of water on a molecular level. The reverse osmosis machine uses high pressure to lessen the water content in the sap. This makes the evaporation process faster saving time and energy.
The sap is then put into the evaporator where it is boiled for several hours at 104 degrees Celsius (219.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Boiling is ended when the sugar content and other molecules reach a level of 66%, what producers call 66 degrees Brix. It is during this evaporating process that the chemical process called the “Maillard Reaction” takes place. This is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that leads it to brown. The same thing happens when grilling a steak, baking cookies, or toasting a marshmallow to name a few examples. This natural reaction occurs when the sap is transforming into syrup and helps give maple its distinct flavor, color, aroma, and antioxidants. (https://ppaq.ca/en/maple-production/step-by-step-production-maple-syrup/)
Maple syrup is home to 100 nutritional compounds. These include amino acids, carbohydrates, organic acids, vitamins, minerals, phytohormones, and polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally occurring organic compounds typically found in plants. Research by Dr. Navindra Seeram at the University of Rhode Island has found that maple syrup contains 67 polyphenols. One of these polyphenols, called Quebecol, is unique to maple syrup. Discovered in 2011, Quebecol appears during the boiling process and is named after the province of Québec, the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. (https://web.uri.edu/maple/)
Pure maple syrup from the US or Canada contains vitamins and minerals – at approximately 110 calories per serving (2 tablespoons). The vitamins and minerals found in maple syrup can help maintain/support a healthy body: just 2 tbsp (30 mL) of maple syrup contain 35% of the Daily Value for Manganese and 15% of the Daily Value for Riboflavin. Maple is considered a source of calcium, thiamin, potassium and copper, a good source of riboflavin, and an excellent source of manganese, which is an essential nutrient involved in many chemical processes in the body, including processing of cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein. Manganese might also be involved in bone formation (www.puremaplefromcanada.com).
Other parts of the maple plant have been the subject of research in recent years as well. Bioactive compounds have been discovered in the leaves of red maple trees that could help protect the skin from wrinkles, dark spots, and inflammation. More research is needed, but these potential cosmetic benefits could lead to the formation of a more natural “plant-based” Botox for skin care (https://web.uri.edu/maple/).
Whether in the making or the make-up, maple syrup provides opportunities for scientific learning and further scientific discovery!