March is an interesting month in Michigan, beginning with winter and ending with spring. Animals, plants (and people) begin to end their winter hibernation and look forward to a brand new summer season of plentiful, locally grown foods again. While we wait for trees to bud, the Maple trees are hard at work, and begin to utilize their stored winter energy. The starches inside the roots and trunks rise and are converted to sugars.
Tree trunks can be tapped at this time to collect it as a clear flowing sap. The weather and timing are critical to sap collecting to prevent bitterness in the syrup. Historically, Maple sap is gathered during the first full moon of spring, called the “Sugar Moon”. The liquid is then boiled down and filtered to render one of the oldest and most distinct naturally flavored sweeteners-maple syrup.
Utilized first by Native Americans, its nutritional properties were used as a food and medicine. Maple syrup was also the main sweetener used by colonists before being replaced by the cheaper-to-produce commercialized sugar. It is calorically equal to table sugar but has health benefits that exceed other natural sugars, such as honey. Compared to honey, maple syrup has 15 times more calcium and 1/10th of the sodium. Maple syrup also contains healthful amounts of potassium, calcium zinc and manganese. It is loaded with natural phenols and antioxidant compounds that are relevant for Type 2 Diabetes.
Today, the largest sources of calories in the American diet come from processed and refined sugars. The average American intake has risen from 4 pounds per year in the 1700’s to 154 pounds annually-120 pounds more than the recommended allowance! The body identifies processed sugars as an incomplete food, or empty calorie, and must work very hard to metabolize it. This process is difficult on the body and has become a primary source of an overabundance of calories. These excessive underutilized calories are stored, adding unwanted weight to our frames. The excess body weight is considered a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, putting us on the fast track for diet related health problems.
For those who strive to use less refined sugars, maple syrup is a fantastic substitute. It is three times as sweet as regular sugar, has a lower glycemic index and is a great way to keep the sweetness while controlling calories. It can be substituted for white sugar in cooking at a ratio of ¾ cup for every one cup of refined sugar. Try replacing table sugar with maple syrup to enhance the flavor of recipes while keeping the nutrients optimal.
You can also use maple syrup to prepare this pure and healthy sweet snack. The combination of the maple flavor helps to bring out the natural nuttiness of the walnuts, pecans and pistachios. Mix and match your favorites for a customizable variation that tastes great right out of the oven!
Maple Glazed Spiced Nuts
by Gourmet Everyday
1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
6 Tablespoon Pure Maple Syrup
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Cups mixed nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and/or pistachios
Preheat oven to 350*. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In a bowl, mix together the spices and syrup. Add the nuts and stir to coat. Spread the coated nuts on the to the cookie sheet in an even layer. Bake until the nuts begin to brown, approximately 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Photo credit: LadyDragonflyCC <3 Orchid Weekend!