A Sweet Culinary Affair: CBD-Infused Maple Syrup
There seems to be a lot of focus on cannabinoid infusion targeting various kinds of butter and oil but with the holiday season coming around the corner, we think this is the appropriate time to introduce an infusion process using a naturally sweet food product: maple syrup.
Rest assured, this will not be the only sweet CBD-infusion process we will learn how to make but we feel strongly that maple syrup earns the right to be the first sweet food to absorb and distribute the cannabinoid of your choice. As per our usual approach, we will select a popular CBD hemp flower strain for this infusion process but first, let’s learn about maple syrup!
Maple Syrup: A Natural, Plant-Based Sweetener
When it comes to accommodating the human digestive system, maple syrup ranks right at the top as an ideal natural sweetener but this is merely one advantage that maple syrup has over other sweeteners.
A Brief History of Maple Syrup Making
Before we continue, let us give our thanks for the discovery and use of maple syrup where it is due: the indigenous tribes of North America! While maple trees are originally from Asia, they made their way to the North American continent where many indigenous tribes harvested the sap going many generations back.
There are a couple of remarkably similar legends explaining how Native Americans discovered maple syrup. In each of them, a Native American chief pulls his tomahawk from the trunk of a maple tree as he heads out hunting. Sap runs from the gash made by the tomahawk and a woman from the tribe uses it instead of water to make their dinner. Upon his return, the chief is astonished at and pleased with the sweetened meal. After learning it came from the maple tree, the practice of tapping maple trees began. As is typical with indigenous cultures, this process was shared with visiting tribes. Drawing sap to make syrup swiftly became common practice across the network of tribes spanning northeastern America and eastern Canada.
The generous nature of the Indigenous Peoples of North America resulted in their sharing of this process with the newly-arrived European settlers. In 1663, chemist Robert Boyle penned a description of the marvelous maple to curious Europeans; many historians mark this year as the beginning of modern maple tree history. Settler John Smith (a Jamestown founder but more notably the husband of Pocahontas) chronicled the sugar-making process that the Indigenous Peoples had developed over the centuries. He also noted that, as is usual with the Indigenous Peoples of North America, they developed other uses for the maple tree of which perhaps the most notable was an effective cough medicine brewed from the inner bark of the maple tree.
There are about 150 species of maple trees around the globe, mainly found in the Northern Hemisphere. While the majority of the species are native to eastern Asia the highly popular and sweet sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is native to eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.
The Best Culinary Syrup
Of the six culinary syrups regularly consumed, it’s not hard to guess which we rank at the top as best for you… yep, maple syrup. (We also think it’s the most delicious!)
Here is that list of six culinary syrups ordered by what we deem is best for you; you can decide for yourself if our ranking for maple syrup is accurate and equitable:
- Maple Syrup – harvested from the sugar maple tree for that flavor you know and love
- Agave Syrup – made from the stem of the succulent plant agave
- Cane Syrup – made from sugar canes, it is a slight improvement over cane sugar
- Golden Syrup – a crystallized sugar by-product made from sugar, water, and citric acid
- Glucose (or Corn) Syrup – sourced from starch, it can cause obesity and heart disease
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup – a cheaper version of corn syrup, equally unhealthy
Actually, of those six, only two syrups should be consumed by humans: maple and agave syrups. (Even agave syrup comes under attack for its higher fructose content. People with diabetes opt for agave syrup instead of sugar, but they would be better served to choose agave nectar instead, as no fructose is included.)
A Nutritious Snapshot of Maple Syrup
Before we begin with the diversity of health benefits swimming in maple syrup, let’s get a quick overview of some key nutrition facts about maple syrup… in just one tablespoon of maple syrup you will find:
- Calcium (20mg) – this essential mineral builds bones and keeps them strong while also helping our heart to beat, our muscles to contract, and our blood to clot
- Iron (0.02mg) – found in our hemoglobin, this is the protein delivering oxygen from our lungs through the body and helping our muscles store and use that oxygen
- Magnesium (4mg) – a key to over 300 enzyme reactions in our body, it helps with muscle and nerve function, regulates blood pressure, and offers immune system support
- Manganese (0.58mg) – a trace mineral in our body, you can find it in bones, the liver, kidneys, and pancreas; it helps form connective tissue, bones, and sex hormones
- Potassium (42mg) – this essential mineral is required by all tissues in our body; it is a type of electrolyte that helps our muscles contract and our nerves to function
- Zinc (0.29mg) – another essential trace element, very little is needed to support your immune system and metabolism function
Okay, that’s an impressive start for this delicious natural syrup! But surely there is more… and there is!
The Numerous Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Not only is maple syrup nutritious but it also contains multiple beneficial properties to help us stay healthy. Consider the following properties found in maple syrup:
- Anti-Inflammatory – maple syrup contains polyphenol antioxidants, known to help prevent conditions like arthritis, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Antibiotic Enhancer – in a recent study, maple syrup demonstrated the ability to boost the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments
- Antioxidant – within pure maple syrup are 24 different antioxidants, all of which help reduce free radical damage
- Better Digestion – most processed sugars damage the digestive system in various ways but maple syrup is easy on the tummy while delivering the sweetness we crave
- Improved Skin Health – some people use maple syrup as a topical treatment since it can lower skin inflammation and reduce blemishes, dryness, and rashes
- Low Glycemic Index – as maple syrup shows up low on this index, you can treat your sweet tooth without boosting your sugar levels sky high
- Natural Sweetener – most artificial sweeteners proved to be detrimental to our health whereas maple syrup is just nature at its purest and sweetest
- Nutrient-Rich – as already listed above, the rich amount of nutrients from maple syrup helps our bodies in so many different ways
With this litany of wellness possibilities, it’s no wonder that maple syrup earns much-deserved recognition and is experiencing increased consumption, particularly among health-conscious consumers.
And it is for all of these above reasons, along with the ability to complete the infusion process in considerably less time than required for butter or oil, that maple syrup is an ideal candidate for the infusion process. Plus its woodsy and caramel-like flavoring nicely complements the earthy and green cannabinoid flavors absorbed during the infusion process.
Tapping Into Maple Syrup Goodness
Finally, let us marvel for a moment over the unique maple tree. While the majority of maple syrup consumed is derived from the sweet maple tree, you can tap any mature maple tree for its sap. It’s just that the sweet maple tree has the highest concentration of sugar among all of its relatives.
By the way, most deciduous trees can be tapped since they all have sap but you need to know your trees very well, as some saps, like buckhorn or staghorn sumac, can be toxic to humans. For our purposes, we’re going to stick with classic maple syrup derived from sweet maple trees!
Harvesting Maple Syrup
For the serious harvester of maple sap, the process starts by monitoring weather conditions beginning around mid-February, as winter is waning. When the temperature gets above freezing during the daytime but plunges below freezing when night comes, the conditions are ripe for sap to begin flowing up the maple tree and for maple syrup lovers to begin tapping maple trees.
Any chosen maple tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter to qualify for tapping; if it is more than 18 inches in diameter, two taps can be inserted into the maple tree resulting in twice as much collected sap. It usually takes a maple tree 40 years to be able to produce sap but since they live between 130 and 300 years, there will be many productive years once a maple tree reaches maturity.
A healthy maple tree with one tap inserted can redirect as much as one gallon of sap into the bucket. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup, which explains why pure maple syrup can be so expensive. A maple tree can be tapped for about four or five weeks before it will go dry. If a maple tree produces 1 gallon of sap each day for five weeks, that is a total of 35 gallons of sap (close to one gallon of pure maple syrup).
Tapping is the process of drilling a hole (approximately ½ inch diameter) about 1 to 1½ inches deep and slanted upward to allow the sap to flow from it more readily. A spile (a fancy term for a spout or tap) is tapped snugly into the hole and a bucket hangs from its hook to collect the sap.
Collected sap goes to the sugarhouse and passes through the boiling process. This involves spreading the sap into a large shallow pot sitting on a woodstove and evaporating the water. The end result is syrup, which then needs to have niter and other foreign materials filtered out while it is still hot. What remains is a clear syrup ready for bottling.
Grading Maple Syrup
The highest quality maple syrup (Grade A Light Amber) is the clearest; this is accomplished by boiling the sap and evaporating the water as quickly as possible. There are a total of five grades of maple syrup as follows:
- Grade A Light Amber – has a golden color and delicate flavor
- Grade A Medium Amber – has an amber color with a richer flavor
- Grade A Dark Amber – has dark coloring with a robust flavor
- Grade B – contains very dark coloring with a strong flavor
- Commercial Grade – the darkest color and strongest flavor, ideal for commercial foods
It is important to understand that different grades only reflect the darkness of its coloring and the richness of its flavor; a Grade B maple syrup is just as good as a Grade A Light Amber but holds a stronger flavor and deeper coloring. That being said, many consumers tend to go for the lighter-colored maple syrups with the subtler flavoring since it mixes well with other foods and flavors. Finally, many bottles will simply say Grade A and then describe the coloring and flavor; for instance, if a maple syrup label states “Grade A – Amber Color and Rich Taste” it would be classified as Grade A Medium Amber.
Infusing Maple Syrup with Cannabinoids
Now that we have a better appreciation as to how miraculous maple syrup really is, let’s boost its magical abilities even more by infusing it with CBD!
We already hinted that this is a much quicker process than infusing oil or butter; typically in less than 3 hours, you can complete the entire infusion process with maple syrup (including preparation), which gives it another sweet point in its overall goodness and ease rating.
A competent chef will ensure all required materials (cooking equipment and recipe ingredients) are in supply and on hand before proceeding with this recipe. Because the CBD hemp flower strain you choose must be decarboxylated prior to beginning the sous vide process, there are a few extra kitchen supplies you will need to accomplish that initial task.
In all, you should have at least the following kitchen supplies with which to work:
- Cooking Sheet – used to decarboxylate your plant materials
- Herb Grinder – used to grind your plant materials before decarboxylation
- Parchment Paper – to spread plant materials on for decarboxylation
- 16-ounce Mason Jar – contains the maple syrup and CBD hemp flower strain
- Cheesecloth – for keeping plant materials separate from maple syrup
- Twist Tie – ties the cheesecloth into a “teabag”
- Sous Vide Precision Cooker – the equipment used for the infusion process
- Water Container – should be able to hold about 12 quarts of water
If you normally keep decarboxylated CBD hemp flower strains (and CBD kief strains) in stock, you can scratch the cooking sheet, herb grinder, and parchment paper from the above list. Many of our dedicated CBD infusers do make it a standard practice to keep a varied inventory of decarboxylated materials at the ready since it will keep well for a long time and saves time during the infusion process.
- 1 cup of maple syrup
- ½ ounce of Fern Valley Farm CBD Hemp Flower Shake/Trim
You get to decide which grade of maple syrup you wish to use but we do recommend a grade with a stronger maple taste to offset flavors pulled from the plant materials during the infusion process.
You also get to choose the CBD hemp flower strain for this process. Since we want to also measure the cannabinoids ending up in the maple syrup, we will assume that ½ ounce of our top-notch Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim is selected for the infusion process.
The first two steps entail preparing your plant materials by decarboxylating them. Those of you who maintain an existing inventory of decarboxylated materials can jump to step 3 of these directions.
- DECARBOXYLATION STEP – grind plant materials into a fluffy mound; this makes for a more thorough decarboxylation of all plant materials put into the oven.
- DECARBOXYLATION STEP – set your oven at 250˚F and place a sheet of parchment paper on top of a cooking sheet; sprinkle your newly-ground plant materials evenly across the parchment paper and slide the cooking sheet onto the center rack of your oven. After about 15 or 20 minutes, your plant material should be browner and feel a bit crunchy. If so, your plant materials are properly decarboxylated.
- Prepare your water bath by filling a 12-quart rectangular container (or larger) about ¾ full of water. Insert your precision cooker into the bath and turn it on, setting the temperature to 185˚F and the timer for 2 hours. This will provide enough time to infuse the cannabinoids from your plant materials into the maple syrup.
- Cut a piece of cheesecloth big enough to hold all your decarboxylated materials. Pull together the four corners and tie them together with a twist tie. You should have what looks like a large tea bag. Place this into your mason jar.
- Pour the maple syrup into the mason jar. Make sure the lid is screwed back on airtight. Set the mason jar into the water bath as the temperature rises to 185˚F (as the water rises to the right heat level, it gradually initiates the infusion process without harming your maple syrup). The timer will start its countdown once the water reaches the target temperature. Throughout the infusion process, the precision cooker will maintain an even and accurate temperature.
- Once the infusion process is complete two hours later, unplug your precision cooker and remove it from the water bath. Keep in mind that the mason jar is very hot so use tongs to remove it from the water bath or scoop it out with a large sieve. Let it cool on the counter for about 15 minutes, or when you can safely remove the lid from the mason jar.
- Carefully open the mason jar and pull the cheesecloth “teabag” up to the top of the jar. Using a wooden spoon, very gently press the back of it against the cheesecloth to squeeze out the maple syrup sitting in the plant materials. We emphasize a gentle squeeze so that harsh or spent plant material flavors are not pressed into the maple syrup.
- Throw out the cheesecloth with used plant materials. Measure the amount of maple syrup remaining after the infusion process; it is common that as much as 10% of the original amount may be lost through plant material absorption. As already mentioned, you can wring out the cheesecloth to salvage more maple syrup but you also risk pulling in more bitter flavors from the spent plant material. The modest amount of extra syrup and cannabinoids to be recaptured from such rough treatment is usually not worth the effort.
It should be noted that, unlike oils which can lose as much as ¼ of its original content, maple syrup loses much less volume during the infusion process. This is probably due to the fact that the consistency of maple syrup is such that it more easily separates from the infused plant material when strained, as compared to oils which cling more efficiently to other materials.
If your new concoction is intended for immediate use, keep it in the mason jar. If you anticipate using it over the next week, pour your CBD-infused maple syrup into an attractive syrup dispenser and store it in a dark cool area (or your fridge).
Gauging the Potency of Your CBD-Infused Maple Syrup
Everyone has their own level of tolerance which means that there are no hard and fast rules concerning how much CBD should be infused into any food product you choose. However, for most of our tutorials concerning cannabinoid infusions, we demonstrate the process using what we deem to be a standard degree of potency – neither too weak nor too strong.
For the above example, we recommended using ½ ounce of our Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim. From our point of view, this is an excellent strain to add to a natural sweetener, since the effects from consuming our Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim often include upbeat energy that helps to motivate and focus the consumer. On top of the classic Sativa-like effects suitable for kicking off the day, you also receive a potent intake of cannabinoids thanks to the 16.03% CBD content from our Hawaiian Haze shake/trim entering your endocannabinoid system.
So let’s do our math and find out approximately how much CBD will end up in a cup of maple syrup assuming you use ½ ounce of Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim…
Remember that we are only estimating CBD potency, which should be sufficient for your informal home use, so even though there is a complicated formula we can use to fine-tune our estimate, we should be satisfied with an estimate with a 10% plus/minus error range. So we will use the two-step calculation as outlined in our in-depth “Decarboxylation Demystified” article.
- We decarboxylated ½ ounce (14 grams) of Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim which has a CBD potency of 16.03%. The process results in an approximate 10% to 12% weight loss, leaving 12.3 grams of plant material.
- The remaining 12.3 grams (12,300 milligrams) contained 16.03% CBD – 1971mg of CBD – that was infused into your maple syrup.
- Divide the estimated 1,971mg of CBD by 14½ tablespoons and the result is more than 135mg of CBD per tablespoon.
It should also be noted that while our Hawaiian Haze CBD flower strain may tend to offer a higher CBD content than many other strains, the range of potency among all the various hemp CBD flower strains runs between 13% and 20%.
If you’re curious (and who isn’t?), here are the top and bottom ranges of estimated potencies, using the same assumptions concerning remaining weight after decarboxylation (12.3 g) and remaining maple syrup after infusion (14½ tbsp):
- 13% CBD content – 110mg CBD per tbsp
- 20% CBD content – 170mg CBD per tbsp
Meanwhile, using our original infusion of Hawaiian Haze CBD shake/trim that resulted in a CBD content of 135mg per tablespoon, here is a quick conversion table to make it easier for you to figure out how much power you will get from your CBD-infused maple syrup using these common measurements:
- 1 tablespoon – 135mg CBD
- 1 teaspoon – 45mg CBD
- ¼ cup – 540mg CBD
- ⅓ cup – 720mg CBD
- ½ cup – 1,080mg CBD
- 1 cup* – 2,160mg CBD
* The instructions result in less than 1 cup (about ⅞ of a cup) of CBD-infused maple syrup after the process is completed; ingredients need to be doubled for those wishing to have a full cup (with another ¾ cup remaining for other uses).
Keep in mind that you don’t need a lot of maple syrup to sweeten up a dish, so 135mg of CBD per tablespoon should go a long way. However, those who love to pour maple syrup over waffles or pancakes may find their hotcakes much more potent than any they ever enjoyed before!