Food Column: Birch is the New Maple

Food Column: Birch is the New Maple

LiQM_Mar2017_CoverThis column first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Birch is the New Maple

By Annik De Celles

They say that if you only look at one tree, you can miss the whole forest. This saying couldn’t be truer when it comes to syrup! Québec is renowned for its maple syrup, which has been exported around the world for decades. Birch syrup is a lesser-known, yet no less interesting, product of our forests.

In the past, birch syrup was used by First Nations people in British Columbia to treat coughs and colds. Birch sap was used as a paste to heal minor wounds and prevent infections.

The medicinal properties of birch sap are well documented and varied. It has been used to treat many medical conditions, including urinary tract infections, kidney problems, lack of energy and high blood pressure. Ongoing research into the medical uses of birch sap and birch syrup could lead to a larger market for Québec producers.

From Sap to Syrup

In recent years, many Québec maple sugar producers have started diversifying and producing birch syrup, mostly in the Chaudière-Appalaches region where the yellow birch tree is plentiful.LiQ_Sub_Dec2015

Birch syrup is much more costly and labour intensive to produce than maple syrup. To make a single litre of birch syrup, 140 litres of sap water must be used and reduced through boiling – three and a half times the amount required for maple syrup. As a result, birch syrup is more expensive.

Chemically Speaking

What makes birch syrup unique is the predominance of fructose, a form of sugar that is more easily digestible. Maple sugar, on the other hand, primarily contains sucrose. Fructose has a lower glycemic index than sucrose, making birch syrup a more suitable choice for diabetics. It is also high in vitamins and minerals such as potassium, manganese, thiamin (vitamin B1) and calcium.

Liquid Gold

Transformed through a long, slow boiling process just like its maple counterpart, the birch sap becomes a sugary, almost balsamic vinegar-tasting syrup which is sought after by foodies and chefs from all over Québec and the world. Most of the syrup made by small Québec producers is sent to restaurants in California, New York and London. Home cooks can also find this unique natural delicacy in specialty shops and markets.

Sweet Ideas

This is not your everyday, pour-on-your-pancakes kind of syrup. The sweet and almost spicy birch syrup is mostly used in marinades, sauces and dressings. Many chefs tend to pair it with duck or red meats, or use it to sweeten roasted root vegetables or baked beans. Its distinctive taste makes it a nice and surprising alternative in many recipes, replacing honey, molasses or balsamic vinegar.


Spring Bowl with Birch Syrup Tahini Dressing

Cooked cooled rice, quinoa or grain (about 1 cup per bowl)
Shredded beets, carrots, cucumbers, snap peas
Avocado slices
Bean sprouts
Grilled tofu*
Grilled spicy chickpeas**

*Prepare the tofu: cut 1 block of firm tofu into small cubes. Marinate in 1/4 cup tamari for at least 30 minutes. Pour out excess tamari and reserve to use in the dressing. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to coat tofu. Grill tofu in a hot nonstick pan over medium-high heat until crisp. Let cool and set aside.

**Prepare the chickpeas: thoroughly rinse 1 can of chickpeas. Sauté in a nonstick pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 2 tablespoons birch syrup or maple syrup. Let cool and reserve.

Place chosen grain in each bowl, place vegetables, tofu and chickpeas on grain, pour dressing and enjoy!

(For 2 bowls)

3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons birch syrup (or 3 tablespoons maple syrup + 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all ingredients in a small Mason jar. Close the jar tightly and shake until tahini is well incorporated. Refrigerate leftover dressing for up to 7 days.


About Author

Annik De Celles

Teacher by day, cookbook author and foodie by night, Annik is a mom of 3 who believes life can be sweet and healthy!

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