As a proud Ambassador of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, it is my duty to acknowledge that my exclusive relationship with traditional maple syrup is, well, on rocky ground – for now. Paul Simon sang “There must be fifty ways to leave a lover”, but for me there is but one noble way and a public admission regarding my current, seesawing devotion to just this one maple by-product is up for review.
After years of consuming maple syrup in everything from cocktails to curries, I can no longer pledge my exclusive fidelity to this one product. Never did it occur to me that I would one day contemplate occasionally substituting my one, my only liquid, gold love for another member of the renowned and multi-faceted maple clan. The maple family is extended and diverse. Syrups are now graded according to colour, potency and texture. A variety of sugar textures – instead of the moist and molded loaves of the past that had to be grated then dried for daily consumption – are now part and parcel of contemporary maple offerings. New techniques have facilitated the recent introduction of sugar flakes, while also making other not-necessarily-homemade maple treats widely available. However, thanks to new and more sophisticated systems, Quebec producers are now able to themselves craft maple nuggets and offer sifted, granulated maple sugar. It is these that have recently caught my eye and stolen my heart.
Granulated maple sugar is a dry, nuggetty, versatile upstart and is comparatively new to the commercial scene. It has taken its place among other maple derivatives from La Belle Province which collectively account for 70% of the world’s market share of maple products. This loose and grainy little hipster has proven to be an engaging team player and has no problem fraternizing with chilies, peppers and other spices like cumin, mustard seeds, cloves and even seaweed – spice blends that we have created such as Maple vinaigrette seasoning, Maple BBQ rub, Nordic zaatar, Nordic salad dressing seasoning and, Maple ham spices are but a few examples of its extraordinary compatibility.
Is a dish too hot, too sour, salty or overly bitter? A quick squirt of syrup or sprinkle of sugar will deliciously repair taste imbalances and flavour shortcomings.”
There are family traits that maple syrup, nuggets and granulated sugar share, among them is their uncanny ability to “correct” culinary missteps. Is a dish too hot, too sour, salty or overly bitter? A quick squirt of syrup or sprinkle of sugar will deliciously repair taste imbalances and flavour shortcomings. Their versatility with spices is most inspiring. A glance at world renowned chef, restaurateur and multiple, best-selling author Yotam Ottolenghi's prolific use of maple syrup in his recipes will confirm this. Stephen Stills, another well known song writer may also have had a point when he penned “Love the one you’re with”. This I think might be a fitting resolution for this Ambassador-in-a-quandary, whose primary responsibility is to ensure that maple products be given an equal opportunity to be discovered and in turn, continue to be loved by all.
Ethné de Vienne was born in Trinidad, so spices and cooking have always been a part of her life. She worked in fashion for many years before finally building the renowned Montreal catering service with her husband Philippe. Today, as a full-time spice hunter, she takes great care in maintaining Épices de Cru’s relationships in its vast network of suppliers around the globe. She’ll never deny that any dish can be improved by a little cumin or zaatar, and probably a nice glass of rum!