03/20/2015 03:36 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Maple syrup made healthier with prebiotic, say researchers

Researchers at McGill University say they have developed a process to make maple syrup healthier by boosting the level of prebiotics in the sweet treat.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates that nourish probiotics, the "good bacteria" in our intestinal tract, thereby boosting the immune system and helping the body fight off pathogens.

Prof. Salwa Karboune with the food science and agricultural chemistry department at McGill says maple syrup naturally has prebiotics, but only in "very very small amounts," so her team set out to increase the level through biocatalysis, an enzymatic process that can multiply production.

Karboune says the researchers have used the enzyme levansucrease to turn maple syrup’s sucrose into chains of fructose molecules known as fructooligosaccharides, one type of prebiotic.

"The enzyme, which is the biocatalysis, ìs using the sucrose as the starting material to produce the fructooligosaccharides," Karboune says. "By using maple syrup, which is very rich in sucrose — it contains more than 60 per cent sucrose — we are able to enrich the maple syrup with prebiotics."

"We have patents on this process and we are hoping one day the consumer can buy maple syrup enriched with the prebiotics and promote their intestinal health," she says.

So far the enrichment process has not been developed beyond the lab. But for now, fans of maple syrup are still getting small amounts of other healthy compounds, including the amino acids threonine, arginine and proline and the minerals potassium, calcium and magnesium.