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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Maple Syrup is a ‘Hero Ingredient’

URI College of Pharmacy researchers partner with JWU to leverage culinary nutrition, food science and chemistry

By Patrick Luce

Creating “better-for-you foods” that not only taste great but also pack a nutritional punch has been a major focus of research in the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy’s Bioactive Botantical Lab for several years. And now, an expanded collaboration with Johnson & Wales University aims to further publicize the nutritional and culinary benefits derived from maple.

Maple syrup has a unique nutritional and chemical composition featuring antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and organic acids, according to researchers Navindra Seeram and Hang Ma, who received a $500,000 grant from United States Department of Agriculture to further the collaborative study. 

Most often, maple syrup is used by consumers chiefly as a breakfast topping, and current cookbook recipes and cocktails have not exploited its unique nutritional profile, flavor, and form to optimize its functional food and health properties.

“Most published cookbooks on maple syrup focus on its savory and sweetener properties. The creation of recipes and products that capitalize on maple syrup’s health-promoting properties has immense market opportunity,” Seeram and Ma write in their project description. 

“We will feature maple syrup as a ‘hero ingredient’ which refers to foods that provide an associated benefit, most often health related. We will investigate maple syrup’s pairing and/or integration with well-known healthy plant foods, which will resonate well with consumers seeking better-for-you, natural foods to eat for health.”

Researchers and students from URI and the JWU College of Food Innovation and Technology aim to:

  • Create guidelines for recipe and product development focusing on maple syrup’s health-promoting properties based on targeted food pairings for synergistic biological effects.
  • Develop, refine and validate a range of innovative recipes and products that feature maple syrup with food pairings and formulations that target home cooks/consumers and industry professionals.
  • Create webinars, podcasts and symposia focused on maple syrup’s culinary versatility and health-promoting properties, featuring product demonstrations, sensory panels, tastings, and expert presentations.
  • Publicize the insights, recipes and demonstrations in publications and websites with accompanying social media and consumer network.

“Ultimately, by building out maple syrup’s evidence base, showcasing its ‘untapped’ potential, demonstrating its innovative and expanded applications, and disseminating this rich content to experts, influencers, and the general public, this project will raise maple syrup’s profile, stimulate curiosity, and generate visibility globally,” Seeram and Ma said. 

“It will increase maple syrup utilization as a ‘functional food ingredient’ through the application of recipes highlighting its functionality and health-promoting benefits, spurring increased awareness, demand, and sales.”

The study combines the scientific breakthroughs in URI’s Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory with the culinary breakthroughs in JWU’s food lab. Seeram has been a leader in unlocking the medicinal benefits of maple.  

Maple food products have a unique compositional chemistry containing minerals, vitamins, amino acids and more than 67 bioactive natural plant compounds with potential health benefits — as identified in a decade of research in Seeram’s URI lab. 

His findings already have shown that maple compounds can help stabilize blood glucose levels, fight inflammation and help fight wrinkles, with potential as an alternative to Botox injections.

“If you’re stranded on a deserted island and could bring only one food, maple is the food for you since it contains macronutrients (mainly as sucrose) as well as micronutrients and a diverse array of phytonutrients,” Seeram said. 

“We’re putting the brightest young minds together to find ways to consume all those healthy compounds in a natural sweetener that tastes great.”