If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may have noticed that we've given a lot of the-stuff-formerly-known-as-ink to maple syrup. We've written about how it's made, how to turn it into a sticky taffy by pouring it on snow, maple creemees, vodka made from fermented maple sap, even an entire alphabet of ways to eat the stuff. It's a geographical bias, I'm afraid; my former co-blogger, Amanda, grew up in Vermont, and I live just across Lake Champlain from the state. Pretty much the only exciting thing happening in the Northeast in March is that the maple sap is (usually) running.
Although I moved here from a non-maple-producing state, I sometimes forget how little thought the rest of the country, and world, gives to maple syrup. I was reminded of this recently during my visit to Australia, when someone commented that he didn't understand why Americans were always going on about how much better their maple syrup is. I was a little baffled by his remark—I thought there were no sugar maples in the southern hemisphere—until a few days later, at breakfast, when our host put a bottle of syrup labeled "maple" in big letters on the table. It was artificially flavored corn syrup, of course, but I realized that a lot of people south of the 40th parallel, much less the equator, don't know the difference.
There is at least one place outside of the United States that might be as maple-mad as New England: South Korea. Except instead of pouring the syrup on pancakes, they're drinking the straight sap, and in surprising quantities. According to a 2009 New York Times article, some Koreans drink as much as five gallons of sap in a sitting from the maple tree they call gorosoe, during a spring ritual that may be thousands of years old. Gorosoe translates to "tree good for the bones," but many Koreans believe its sap is good for all kinds of ailments, including high blood pressure, diabetes and hangovers. They gather for sap-sucking picnics or sit in heated rooms, playing cards and eating salty snacks like dried fish to work up a good thirst.
Health claims haven't been proven, but maple sap is high in vitamins and minerals, including calcium and potassium. Unlike the boiled-down syrup, sap is low in sugar—it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. When I tasted some straight from a tree last year, it was nearly indistinguishable from water, although sugar content varies over the course of the running season. Some people use the sap in place of water for cooking, as Elizabeth Folwell writes in Adirondack Life (excuse the shameless plug for the magazine where I work), in anything from oatmeal to "faux pho" (recipes at link).
Or you can just drink it as a spring tonic, as the South Koreans do. Dried fish not necessary.