For most folks, pure maple syrup is the yummy stuff they drizzle onto pancakes, waffles and porridge to make their breakfasts complete. When they find out exactly how the syrup is made, it takes on an even more cherished role in their culinary preferences. No matter how you pour it, maple syrup is time and labour intensive to produce.
Of course, things have changed from the 1600s, when Native Peoples in Canada carved slots into maple trees and used strips of bark as spiles to extract the sap. What hasn’t changed is using the sap as a sweetener and a natural remedy for certain ailments. Maple syrup contains minerals such as manganese, zinc, magnesium, calcium, riboflavin and potassium. In addition, syrup achieves similar antioxidant levels to broccoli and bananas.
Even with today’s technology, however, the process of producing maple syrup is intensive. Here are a few facts that may make you look at the sweet stuff in a new way.
- The maple syrup seasons runs for a few weeks in the spring, when we have warm days and cool nights. The roots draw water from the ground, and as it makes its way up the trunk, it picks up maple sugars that were stored the previous summer.
- A maple tree has to be at least 40 years old to be big enough to tap.
- To keep the process sustainable, taps are placed in different spots each year so the
previous years’ holes can grow back.
- As the trees grow in diameter and mature, up to four taps can eventually be drilled into each.
- Contrary to what many people think, tapping the trees correctly does not damage them. In fact, some maples have been tapped for over a century.
- For every litre of syrup, farmers have to boil down 40 litres of sap.
- One tap will produce approximately 40 litres of sap over the season (equivalent to one litre of syrup).
- To give you some idea of the effect of the boiling process, sap has a sugar content of about 2.5%, while syrup averages 66.6%.
- In Ontario, maple syrup has to be graded according to colour and flavor. You will tend to use lighter syrup for sweetening your food. The darker syrup is preferred by some as a sweetener, but is usually used in baking.
- To make items such as maple sugar, candy and cream, the sap is boiled even more.
- When the evenings get consistently warm and the trees bud, the maple sap turns bitter, signifying the end of the season.
- Maple syrup does not freeze.
One of the high points of the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival is traveling to Harlaine Farms to see how syrup used to be made with a team of horses pulled buckets of sap through the bush, as well as how it’s made today through the use of plastic tubing for sap collection. Boiling the sap in a massive cauldron has been replaced with modern evaporators.
Find out more at the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association website www.omspa.ca