After noticing a high number of children with vitamin D deficiencies, William Accousti, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital, had the idea to fortify syrup with vitamin D. He created Dr. Bill’s Cane & Maple Syrup, which is available at several area Rouses stores and the restaurants Horn’s, Patois and all locations of Toast. Accousti spoke to Gambit about what got him into the syrup business.
Gambit: How did you get interested in syrup?
Accousti: I grew up in Connecticut, and while my training was all in the Northeast, I came to New Orleans for a one-year post residency fellowship. The plan was just to come here and leave for somewhere else to practice, but I ended up falling in love with New Orleans and never left.
When I moved here, I was exposed to the wonderful Louisiana cane syrup. At first I thought it had a unique taste, almost like a molasses and very thick. Being from the North, I love pure maple syrup, so I would literally pour both onto what I was eating for breakfast. The thinness and flavor of the maple blending with that thick molasseslike (cane) syrup was the perfect complement. My kids loved it, and we started calling it doctor’s magic syrup.
If you look at any commercial syrup out there — there’s no maple anywhere. It’s like flavored table syrup. It’s corn syrup with preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and that’s it. I didn’t really know anything about food, but about two years ago I figured I'd make this a thing. I started experimenting in the kitchen and mixing maple syrup and different cane syrups that were made locally. It was like a science project. I got beakers and graduated cylinders, and that was fun for me.
G: What prompted you to fortify the syrup with vitamin D?
A: Because I’m a pediatric orthopedic bone specialist, I see kids — now more than ever — with low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiencies are incredibly prevalent now. I don’t think I have a single office day that goes by that I don’t see a couple of kids with deficiencies.
I thought maple and cane syrup isn’t exactly a healthy syrup, so why not vitamin fortify it? I contracted a medical group to tell me how to do this. I was buying vitamin D supplements and putting the oil from the vitamin D into the syrup. But the supplements are oil-based and syrup is water-based and they would separate, so I couldn’t ensure that it was uniformly mixed.
They came up with emulsions made with soy oil and other things and it was horrible.
So, like many things that happen serendipitously, a sample of pharmaceutical vitamin D came into my hands (and it) was a plant-based vitamin D source. With one drop, you get a whole day’s worth of vitamin D. After mixing a couple of batches, I sent it to an independent laboratory for analysis and it had higher levels of vitamin D than we expected. So it’s a vitamin D-fortified syrup alternative with only three ingredients: maple syrup, cane syrup and vitamin D.
G: Why are vitamin D deficiencies bad?
A: It’s more of an issue in kids. There are plenty of adults with vitamin D deficiencies that can take vitamin supplements, but the issue is that kids have a very limited time when they can add minerals to their bones to make their bones stronger. Your bones are your lifelong store of calcium. After your teenage years, once your bones fuse and become skeletally mature, it’s a losing position: The older you get, the weaker your bones get. If you’re vitamin deficient while you’re a kid, (with supplements) you could reverse the process or prevent having weaker bones as an adult. Finding out early is important and beneficial — much more than once you’re done growing, because you can’t do much about it then. — HELEN FREUND