Maple Research

Science and Maple according to Dr. Navindra Seeram, URI

by Dr Navindra Seeram, photo by Nora Lewis

Five have never been seen in nature before

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 30, 2011 – University of Rhode Island researcher Navindra Seeram has discovered 34 new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup and confirmed that 20 compounds discovered last year in preliminary research play a key role in human health.

Today at the 241st American Chemical Society’s National Meeting in Anaheim, Calif. the URI assistant pharmacy professor is telling scientists from around the world that his URI team has now isolated and identified 54 beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup from Quebec, five of which have never been seen in nature.

“I continue to say that nature is the best chemist, and that maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it,” Seeram said. “It’s important to note that in our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.”

These discoveries of new molecules from nature can also provide chemists with leads that could prompt synthesis of medications that could be used to fight fatal diseases, Seeram said.

“We know that the compounds are anti-inflammatory agents and that inflammation has been implicated in several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” Seeram said.

As part of his diabetes research, Seeram has collaborated with Chong Lee, professor of nutrition and food sciences in URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences. The scientists have found that maple syrup phenolics, the beneficial anti-oxidant compounds, inhibit two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to Type 2 diabetes management.

The irony of finding a potential anti-diabetes compound in a sweetener is not lost on Seeram. “Not all sweeteners are created equal,” he said.

Among the five new compounds is Quebecol, a compound created when a farmer boils off the water in maple sap to get maple syrup. It takes 40 liters (10.5 gallons) of sap to make 1 liter (2 pints) of syrup.

“Quebecol has a unique chemical structure or skeleton never before identified in nature,” Seeram said. “I believe the process of concentrating the maple sap into maple syrup is what creates Quebecol. There is beneficial and interesting chemistry going on when the boiling process occurs. I believe the heat forms this unique compound.”

Seeram said he and his team chose the common name of Quebecol for the new compound to honor the province of Quebec in Canada, which leads the worldwide production of maple syrup. Seeram’s research was supported by the Conseil pour le developpement de l’agriculture du Quebec (CDAQ) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) on behalf of the Canadian maple syrup industry.

“Producers, transformers and partners of the Canadian maple industry believe that investing in maple syrup knowledge and innovation will bring the products to another level in a few years,” said Serge Beaulieu, president of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and member of the Canadian Maple Industry Advisory Committee.

“Quebec Maple Syrup Producers are especially proud to be leading this long-term innovative strategy on behalf of the Canadian industry and with the talented scientists of the Canadian Maple Innovation Network.”

Genevieve Beland, marketing director of the Federation added, “Maple products’ composition is unique and we are at the starting point of a new era. Ten years from now consumers will appreciate 100 percent pure maple products because they are delicious, natural and have a number of healthy compounds.”

“As we continued our research in the past year, we were astonished when the number of beneficial compounds that we isolated is now more than double the original amount,” said Seeram, who is releasing his findings today.

Seeram is the organizer of the daylong symposium on “Bioactives in Natural Sweeteners,” and is joined by scientists from Canada, Japan, Mexico and the United States to discuss natural sweeteners. Seeram’s collaborations with Angela Slitt, assistant professor of biomedical sciences in URI’s College of Pharmacy and Professor Lee, will also be presented during the meeting.

Seeram’s findings will be detailed in his article recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Functional Foods. The title of the paper is “Quebecol, a novel phenolic compound isolated from Canadian maple syrup.” In addition, Seeram and Lee’s work on diabetes and maple syrup will also be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Functional Foods.

“I can guarantee you that few, if any, other natural sweeteners have this anti-oxidant cocktail of beneficial compounds; it has some of the beneficial compounds that are found in berries, some that are found in tea and some that are found in flaxseed. People may not realize it, but while we have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in our food chain, maple syrup is the single largest consumed food product that is entirely obtained from the sap of trees,” Seeram said.

Reiterating a statement he made last year, Seeram said no one is suggesting that people consume large quantities of maple syrup, but that if they are going to use a sweetener on their pancakes, they should choose pure maple syrup and not the commercial products with high fructose corn syrup.

“Pure maple syrup is not only delicious, it is so much better for you,” Seeram said.

Funding of CDAQ is provided through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food program. AAFC has been able to provide financial support for maple syrup research through the program ‘Growing Canadian Agri-Innovations’.

4 Impressive Maple Syrup Benefits

The health benefits of maple syrup include a healthy heart and a healthier immune system. It also has antioxidant properties that protect our body from free radicals. There are several natural sweeteners that are preferred instead of the chemically prepared sugar which is common in most houses. There are people who prefer using honey instead of any other natural products of the same type. However, maple syrup is considered to be a better option given its low-calorie count, as compared to honey. Uses of Maple Syrup The use of maple syrup is common and is incorporated in many meals. Therefore, it is considered as a key cooking ingredient in a number of food items. This syrup adds flavor to sausages, ice cream, different types of fritters, and fresh fruit, among others. It can also be used in pancakes as a topping, as well as on French toast and waffles, which are common delicacies in some parts of America and Europe. Due to its flavor and sweetness, it can be used as a sweetener to be used in baked beans, cakes, bread, and granola. Some wine manufacturers also consider using it in the wine making process instead of honey. Nutritional Value of Maple Syrup The nutrients found in maple syrup include energy, water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and sugars. In terms of minerals, it contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus sodium, potassium, and zinc. Vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6 are also found in maple syrup. Health Benefits of Maple Syrup Maple syrup is not only tempting and yummy but is also a hoarder of ample health benefits. Let’s take a look at its beneficial effects on our body. Antioxidant Properties Maple syrup has various antioxidant properties that are essential for healthy living. Antioxidants are important for the body as they neutralize free radicals, which may cause various health ailments. Mitochondria are one of the cells that are responsible for energy production, but during this process, free radicals are produced within the mitochondria. This function requires enzymes that are prone to damage or harm by other microorganisms in the body. It is the function of manganese present in the maple syrup to supply the superoxide dismutase which is an oxidative enzyme. This enzyme helps in disarming the dangerous free radicals that are produced by the mitochondria when performing its normal metabolic functions. Healthy Heart The health benefits of maple syrup also include giving you a healthier heart. It is one of the body’s organs that is susceptible to different kinds of diseases such as stroke, atherosclerosis, and other cardiovascular conditions. The presence of zinc in the body is one of the best ways that has been proven to protect the heart against such diseases. Maple syrup contains zinc and its consumption may protect and prevent against various cardiovascular disorders. Zinc also enhances the performance of the endothelial cells by protecting them against damage due to the existence of excess cholesterol, together with other oxidized lipids. The blood vessels are comprised of different components of the endothelial cells, which form the inner lining of these vessels. A low level of zinc exposes the linings to injuries, which in return can affect the normal functioning of the heart. Improves Male Reproductive Health The consumption of maple syrup may also help in maintaining male reproductive health. There are certain minerals, such as zinc, found in maple syrup, are useful for a healthy reproductive system, particularly the prostate gland. Reduction in the level of the minerals increases the risk of disorders, such as prostate cancer. This is why it is advisable for men to always try to consume foods that contain the right amount of this mineral. Maple syrup is one of such food that is easy to acquire, readily available, and enjoyable as well. Strengthened Immune System A lack of zinc and manganese minerals could easily lead to a reduction in the number of white blood cells, which affects the response of the immune system. Supplementing these minerals is the only way known to restore their levels to the proper state. Maple syrup is a good source of both zinc and manganese, which play a key role in strengthening the immune system. How to Prepare Maple Syrup? The Native Americans are said to have discovered that sap from maple trees could be processed to make maple syrup. Maple syrup is prepared from the sugary sap of the maple tree. The preparation involves a tapping or piercing of tree to obtain this sap. These trees accumulate starch in their roots and trunks, especially in the period that precedes winter. The long accumulation of this starch makes it easy for it to convert from the original state to sugar. During the spring season, the sugar rises and mixes with water to form sap which is ready for collection or harvesting. Since the sap contains a high water ratio, it has to undergo processing for the water to evaporate, leaving behind the concentrated, thick syrup. This final product is arrived at through a heating process. The entire process does not involve any use of chemical additives, preservatives, or agents. So far, Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup followed by the United States. The major advantage is that one does not necessarily have to reside in these areas in order to buy this syrup. It is stocked in stores all over the world. How to Select and Store Maple Syrup? Maple syrup is readily available all over the world. Be sure to store the maple syrup in a cool place before opening, and keep it in the refrigerator after opening. Discard it if you see any mold in the syrup. Quick Serving Ideas Sweetener: Use maple syrup as a sweetener for tea or coffee. Sweet Toast: Toast a piece of wheat bread and top it with some cut-up fruits such as banana and apple. Sprinkle cinnamon powder and then drizzle some maple syrup on the entire dish and enjoy!

From the International Maple Syrup Institute

Standardized Maple Grades and Nomenclature The IMSI recently completed a market trial research study which provides interesting consumer and producer feedback on the IMSI's Proposal for a Standardized Definition, Grades and Nomenclature for Pure Maple Syrup. Findings were reported at the IMSI's most recent Annual General Meeting which was held in Groton, Connecticut. An earlier Consumer Research Study was conducted by Cintech Agroelimentre and was reported on at the IMSI's Annual General Meeting in Amherst, Massachusettes in 2008. The objectives for the research were threefold:

  • Provide consumer feedback that will assist communications and full implementation of the proposed standard international maple grades and nomenclature for pure maple syrup
  • Help to establish if consumers understand the new system in a real-world setting
  • Assess the effectiveness and completeness of the terminology
Maple Research Much of the maple research focused on the sugar bush, maple syrup production and marketing has been conducted by three research facilities in North America: Centre Acer in Quebec (, University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center ( and Cornell University ( In addition, other Universities conduct specialized maple research. The North American Maple Syrup Council provides grants to researchers in support of maple research each year (

Cooking with Maple Sugars by Baker's Ingrediants

I don't use white sugar much at home these days. Now I reach for a more unrefined cane sugar like turbinado, or experiment with maple syrup or honey as sweeteners. But the problem with this, for bakers in particular, is that you have to be careful about adding extra liquid to a recipe because it changes the entire composition and structure. So what's a good solution if you want to add a deep, dark sweetener like maple syrup? Pick up a bag of maple sugar!

If you have yet to come across maple sugar at the store, it's made by evaporating the liquid (water) out of maple syrup. It has much larger granules than, say, white sugar and a really distinct maple flavor that is so wonderful in a variety of baked goods, especially this time of year. I've used it in muffins, scones and waffles with great success.As Emma explained in a post introducing maple sugar a few years ago, you shouldn't substitute maple sugar for white sugar completely in a recipe. The flavor will be pretty strong (and it would be an expensive decision since maple sugar is on the pricey side!). Instead, start by subbing 1/3 to 1/2 of the white sugar for maple sugar and see how you like the flavor. Take it from there the next time you bake up your favorite recipe.

Other Great Uses:
1. Coffee and Tea: Using maple sugar in coffee or tea is a great way to impart a subtle maple flavor into your morning joe.

2. Your Morning Oats: There are days when I feel like maple sugar came about solely to join winter morning oats.

3.Sprinkle a spoonful on top of your favorite oatmeal in the morning for a really warm maple sweetness that beats white sugar in complexity any day.

3. Pancakes and Waffles: I've done a few things here. I'll use maple sugar in the batter itself, but more often than not, I sprinkle it on top as more of a garnish. If the pancakes or waffles are hot off the griddle, the maple sugar will melt a bit and, if you use a little butter, it becomes a very merry maple/butter marriage.

4. Granola: I don't use added sugar when I make granola, but I do use maple syrup, and I'm eager to try cutting back a little on the syrup and trying maple sugar as an ingredient. Has anyone had any luck with this?

5. Warm Grain Bowls: If you do warm bowls of quinoa, millet, or couscous in the morning, maple sugar is a dream sprinkled on top. I'll often roast a few apples or chop a couple of ripe pears and in no time, a dreamy breakfast is made.

6. Yogurt: Maple sugar in yogurt is my new favorite snack. With very little of the sugar, you'll have a lovely, complex maple flavor.

How have you used maple sugar in the kitchen?

​​Research has found that Maple Syrup is a wholesome, simple sugar that contains naturally occurring calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and trace amounts of B2, B5, B6, niacin, biotin ​and folic acid, the building blocks of protein.
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