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Ice Ice Baby

Ice Ice Baby

They’ve given us maple syrup, Gala apples and poutine ...could ice syrup be the next iconic Canadian food? If creator Steve Murdza continues to hit the sweet spot with adventurous American chefs, the answer can only be an unqualified yes.

Made from the juicy nectar of white Vidal and red Cabernet Franc grape varieties grown in the Niagara Peninsula, ice syrup packs extraordinary flavor and a plethora of health and taste benefits into each drop. The key is leaving the grapes on the vine after the first deep freeze, allowing the cell structure to break down and release the distinct, concentrated flavor. Filtered to a syrup-like consistency over a low heat — not caramelized like maple syrup — the sugar-acid balance is this product’s thoroughly unique hallmark. As Canadian wine pioneer and Ice Syrup partner Donald Ziraldo advises: “It should be used as one would use Balsamic vinegar. Modestly yet with great impact.”

While Murdza describes his product’s ascent as slow but steady, he’s made some significant inroads since debuting the intense elixir in 2009. Ice syrup has long since earned endorsements from the likes of celebrity master chefs Mark McEwan and Susur Lee, nabbed a prominent feature in the pages of influential tastemaker Wine Spectator magazine, and made its U.S. bow this year at Savor Detroit, a high-profile dinner series showcasing the city’s top chefs. Americans, says Murdza, loved the product, and were eager to embrace the concept. The top selling point for all is ice syrup’s extreme versatility, playing well as ingredient, condiment or flavor enhancer. Loaded with good-for-you attributes, ice syrup can find its home as easily in a gourmet health food store as behind a cocktail bar; glazing a thick grilled salmon steak or drizzling a fresh-from-the-oven apple pie.

“To taste ice syrup is to love it,” asserts Murdza. “Once people sample it, they understand its big taste profile and how it totally transforms the flavor of everything it touches.”

Give credit to that fifth wonder of the taste world – umami – which gives ice syrup a long-lasting, mouth-watering presence. Significant levels of glutamate, the amino acid responsible for umami taste, boost flavor and make dishes palatable even to the ill and the aged. A further boon to the health conscious are the simple sugars, fructose and glucose, that bring on the syrup’s sweetness naturally, not altered, processed or refined in any way. Need more? How about a heaping portion of beneficial antioxidants and resveratrol in every serving.

Arguably, ice syrup is one of the only completely original products introduced in the last decade. “Most introductions are variations on existing items, maybe hotter or spicier or sweeter, but not actually new,” says Murdza. “Ice syrup has about six different flavor profiles going on simultaneously, it just can’t be duplicated.” Vidal syrup begins with apricot and plum flavors and follows up with acidic notes of tangerine and citrus; Cabernet syrup’s mix of ripe raspberries and rhubarb has a strong dark berry finish.

That’s what makes it anything but a simple syrup, and why mixologists have been some of the most enthusiastic adopters of Murdza’s creation. “They love the complexity of it for craft cocktails,” he says. An ounce of Cabernet ice syrup makes an amazing Cosmo, or shaken and stirred into a non-traditional martini; Vidal syrup brings out the best in whiskey or bourbon-based drinks, with apple liqueur or mango and lychee juices.

About the only two applications not in its vast repertoire: ice syrup is not intended to be slathered on pancakes, or to sweeten coffee, as it accentuates the bitter flavor. Instead Murdza advises a delicious alternative — whip some ice syrup into the creamer and then add to coffee for a sip of pure java joy.