Nowadays, all sorts of souped-up water sits on (or flies right off of) store shelves. Aloe-vera, artichoke, cactus, barley…not to mention the wildly “it” coconut water are just some of the flavours available. Now, there’s a new kid in watertown: tree sap. You read that right. The clear, faintly syrupy tasting, water-like liquid that’s tapped from maple trees is the latest water addition taking shelves by storm. But is it good for your health, or is it all another hoax?
This is just the latest trendy iteration of maple, which is widely recognized as Canada’s contribution to the culinary world (we produce 80-plus per cent of the world’s sweet elixir). Maple’s modern makeover ascended it from pancake topper to haute cuisine Brussel sprout-drizzler. And maple farmers now hope sap branded as “maple water” catches on, too.
But, Is It Sticky?
Nope, it’s not. Nor is it sickeningly sweet. When it first seeps from trees, sap is a thin, clear liquid. Only after the silky liquid is boiled down (and the water is evaporated), does it become thick maple syrup.
Is Maple Water Healthy?
These days it’s often relative. Consider maple syrup. “I wouldn’t call it a health food,” says Vasanti Malik, M.Sc., research scientist at Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Department. “While it contains polyphenols, or powerful antioxidants, maple syrup also contains quite a bit of sugar,” says the Toronto native, “and should be used sparingly.”
Calorie for calorie, maple water has less than its syrupy counterpart, clocking in at roughly 30 calories per six ounces. It is also lower in sugar than pop, most sports drinks and coconut water, with about six grams per 16 ounces.
What About Other Benefits?
According to Michael Farrell, PhD, director of Cornell’s Uihlein Forest in Lake Placid, maple water contains naturally occurring minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium, and “is also an excellent source of manganese.”
But how much do we actually consume in a serving of the stuff? According to the nutrition label on Sweet Run maple water, a cup only contains two per cent of our daily calcium and iron intakes — not much at all. On the other hand, some brands of the stuff boast up to 40 per cent of a person’s daily manganese needs.
Happy Tree, also based in New York, highlights B vitamins and electrolytes, for energy, on its packaging.
Will It Hydrate You?
Beyond the obvious benefit of drinking the actual water part of maple water, the jury is still out.
“As for hydration potential, and ability to replace electrolytes, we don’t enough to know if maple water has benefits over water,” says Malik. “Such health claims have not been substantiated, and that’s where the danger lies with this type of marketing. Yes, it may be a better choice than soda or most sports drinks, but if consumers believe they are getting certain health benefits and those aren’t substantiated, that is misleading to the consumer.”
Can It Save Trees?
Vertical Water, which produces a maple flavour and is based in New York state, is bottled by Feronia Forests. That company has been assisted in several ways by Cornell University and Lake Placid forestry experts, who see the consumer-facing water as a way to preserve trees. As the Wall Street Journal reported, maple water offers “a way to keep trees profitable while still standing.”
And, as Vertical Water co-founder and CEO, Valentina Cugnasca, told the Journal, “What’s good for trees is good for us.”
Seeing as it’s hard to argue with saving big, lovable, huggable, trees, that just may be enough of a message to win over the masses.