Uncovering maple’s surprising culinary versatility
Here are some sweet facts and uses that showcase the delectable nuances of this iconic Canadian commodity
When we think of maple, its syrup form immediately comes to mind—and, well, that’s completely fair! Canada is well known for it; in fact, 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup is made right here, with Quebec being the top producer, accounting for 90 per cent and 72 per cent of national and global production, respectively. Enjoyed for centuries, the maple tree’s sap was originally discovered and extracted by the Indigenous Peoples of North America. However, in the 1970s, technological advances refined the process, creating the sticky-sweet syrup we know and love today.
But maple encapsulates so much more than the dark drizzle that makes pancakes and waffles so enjoyable. Its unique flavour works for both sweet and savoury dishes and serves as an easy sweetener swap in a cup of coffee or your favourite recipes. Here, we provide the ultimate primer on this beloved classic, unpacking its diverse flavour profiles, the various forms it comes in, and how to incorporate it into showstopping dishes and cocktails for a holiday dinner party.
Typically, there are four distinct colours of maple syrup. These hues indicate the life cycle of the sap—called the sugaring season—from early harvesting to late. Here’s what each tone means in terms of flavour and where the syrup is best used.
Golden maple syrup = delicate taste
Harvested early in the sugaring season, golden maple is notably lighter in shade, resulting in a flavour that is delicate and mild. It can be incorporated into your morning yogurt, a bowl of ice cream, an emulsified sauce or dressing, a fruit salad or a light marinade.
Amber maple syrup = rich taste
Amber is a name that you would recognize from store shelves, as it is most used for flapjacks and waffles. Its pure, rich flavour is ideal for roasted veggies, seafood, glazes for salmon or white meats, or adding to desserts or vinaigrettes.
Dark maple syrup = robust taste
This hue is known for its deep caramelized flavours that aren’t overpowering. Like amber, the robust makeup of this variation is great for cooking and baking, especially if fruit is involved—think about adding it to your next crisp or pie.
Very dark maple syrup = strong taste
The sugaring season is a waiting game for many: the end yields the strongest flavour, with an intense dark colour to match. The taste is more distinctive than that of the other three colours and really adds the wow factor to glazes and sauces.
So much more than a syrup
While syrup may be its best-known form, maple tree sap can also be made into maple butter. Technically a fondant, maple butter is obtained by heating maple syrup and then quickly cooling and churning it until it reaches a spreadable consistency. It’s delicious on desserts, toast and pancakes, and even in a peppery wine vinegar salad dressing or a lemony vinaigrette. Maple flakes, as in freeze-dried syrup, is a delicious add-on to desserts, while maple taffy, a more concentrated version, is a staple at sugar shacks. Maple sugar adds a distinct sweetness to baking and comes in various textures—the hard kind is nothing short of amazing when grated to garnish French toast, pancakes or even poultry. Maple water flows through the tree and tastes delicate and sweet; it can be consumed cold or used as a simmering or poaching liquid. Maple can even be fermented, distilled and blended to make a delicious addition to whisky, wine, acerum and more.
The holiday season is the perfect time to put maple’s versatility to good use and wow your guests with unexpected flavour combination. Try these two recipes from Maple from Canada’s extensive collection of mouth-watering entrées, appetizers, cocktails and other fine fare showcasing the delectable nuances of this wonder ingredient.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
- 3 oz lemonade
- 1 oz acerum (maple spirit)*
- 1 oz reposado tequila
- 0.5 oz pure maple syrup (preferably amber syrup for its rich flavour)
- 1 lime quarter
- Mixture of 1 part fleur de sel, 1 part maple sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon (for garnish)
- Ice cubes
- Rim a chilled glass with lime.
- Dip the rimmed edge into fleur de sel mixture.
- Add lemonade, acerum, tequila, maple syrup and ice to shaker. Cap and shake to chill.
- Pour margarita through a fine-mesh sieve into the glass.
*Acerum is a Québec spirit distilled entirely from the sap of the maple tree. You may instead add another ounce of tequila to replace it in this recipe.
Credit: Patrice Plante, Mixologist
Maple Rainbow Trout Gravlax
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 3 oz Québec gin
- 1 cup maple sugar
- 1/2 cup coarse salt
- 1 bunch of fresh dill, chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
- 1 tsp peppercorns, crushed coarsely
- 1 rainbow trout fillet (about 2 lbs/1kg) boned, skin on
- In bowl, stir together gin, maple sugar, salt, dill, lemon zest, fennel seeds, juniper berries and peppercorns.
- Pour one-third of the mixture into medium baking dish, top with trout fillet and then the rest of the mixture on the fish, coating it well.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours.
- Flip the fillet and coat it with the mixture again. Let it marinate in the fridge for another 12 hours.
- Rinse the trout fillet under very cold water.
- Pat dry and slice thinly to serve.
Maceration: 24 hours. Gravlax will keep for several days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.
Credit: Marc-André Royal, Chef
Visit the Maple from Canada website to learn more about this national staple.