By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service March 23, 2010
Canada’s most iconic food — maple syrup — is much healthier than previously believed, according to a new U.S. study that found a host of disease-fighting antioxidants in the sugary sap and highlights the lost benefits of smothering pancakes with « fake » liquid sweeteners instead of the « real » stuff.
University of Rhode Island plant scientist Navindra Seeram, backed by more than $100,000 in research funds from Canada, announced Sunday at an American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco that he has discovered 13 new compounds « linked with human health » in samples of Canadian maple syrup.
Among the previously unidentified chemicals were phenolics believed to have « anti-cancer » properties, which sugar maples may be producing in reaction to being tapped by farmers.
« We speculated that the sugar maple is wounded when it is tapped for its sap, and that it secretes phenolics as a defence mechanism, » Seeram says in a summary of his findings.
« We know that plants must have strong antioxidant mechanisms because they are in the sun throughout their lives, » Seeram adds. « We already know that berries, because of their bright colours, are high in antioxidants. Now we are looking at maple syrup, which comes from the sap located just inside the bark, which is constantly exposed to the sun. »
The URI study was funded through a two-year, $115,000 grant supplied by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and CDAQ, the federally funded Quebec agricultural development council.
The study, according to Seeram, was designed to conduct a « comprehensive phytochemical examination of Canadian maple syrup. » The project yielded evidence of 13 « newly discovered » beneficial compounds in maple sap, which First Nations used for millenniums before Europeans settled in Canada in the early 1600s.
« The presence of bioactive phytochemicals in Canadian maple syrup is interesting and relevant to uninformed consumers, who are frequently not aware that fake maple pancake syrup may lack these natural products present in real maple syrup, » says an abstract of Seeram’s conference presentation.
A spokesman for Quebec’s maple syrup industry hailed the findings as a promotional coup for one of Canada’s signature exports.
Source: The Calgary Herald, March 23, 2010, page A8