If you follow culinary trends, it may have crossed your radar that maple water is having a moment. It’s being billed as a local-to-the-North-East version of coconut water – our own locavore Gatorade. It’s lightly sweet as well as rich in specific minerals. In South Korea, where people have been tapping trees and drinking maple water AKA maple sap for centuries, it’s considered “good for the bones.”
In modern America, there are more than a few companies bottling sap for purchase, but if you live in or near the woods, you already have ample access to it. All you need is a drill, a tap, and a bucket and you can collect some water (most rural hardware stores sell taps plus these water-collecting buckets pictured here in this Mass Audubon photo). Late winter/early spring is the time to do this. Most people who bother to drill and collect maple water tap a whole lot of trees, then boil the water down to make maple syrup. But the water itself is good stuff and even if you only have one maple tree, you can tap it.
Cooking with Maple Sap
Maple water is refreshing cold (read up on boiling it first to kill off any bacteria). Warm it up and sip it like tea. Find a bar selling cocktails mixed with it. Or cook with it. The sweetness is extremely subtle so don’t expect it to add to a marinade or a stew what maple syrup does. Still, it could add a little something. Try it instead of water or broth in a stew, or a braise, or even with grains and see what you think. One of the bottled sap brands, DrinkSeva, maintains a “cooking with maple water” board on Pinterest, which is full of cooking ideas. Their maple sap-braised chicken and rice recipe has a nice feel – so do the maple water-marinated spareribs.
Cooking with Maple Syrup
For a real jolt of sweetness and that nice thick stickiness, you’re going to want to use maple syrup. It’s the star ingredient of our thin-cut short rib marinade. Or try this maple mustard glazed pork shoulder from NPR. Many recipes call for maple syrup in stew, including this Vermont winter beef stew on Food52. There are more than a few maple trees in Vermont, after all.