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syrup is made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, black
maple, or red maple trees, however it can also be made
from other maple species. Maple syrup production is
mainly located in northeastern North America;
specifically the northeastern states (including New
York, Vermont and Maine) and the southeastern parts of
Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Given the correct weather
conditions, it can be made anywhere in the habitat range
of the maple trees. In cold environments, the trees
store starch in their trunks and roots before the
winter; the starch is then turned to sugar that rises in
the sap in the spring.
Indigenous peoples from the northeastern part of North
America were the first group known to produce maple
syrup and maple sugar. Aboriginal oral traditions and
archaeological evidence suggest that maple tree sap was
being turned into syrup long before Europeans arrived.
European settlers adopted the practice and advanced
Several tribal legends passed on through oral story
telling explain how maple syrup production began. Some
stories give credit to the squirrel, the Nanabozho or
the Glooskap. Another popular story claims that venison
was cooked in tree sap and served to the chief. The
sugaring season became an important time for aboriginal
tribes. Rituals were celebrated based around sugaring
and celebrating the first full moon of spring, the Sugar
Moon. Maple syrup was used as a sweetener and a flavor
Native Americans collected syrup using primitive tools.
They carved v-shaped notches into the tree trunks using
sharp stones, they diverted the sap flow with concave
pieces of bark or reeds into birch bark buckets. The sap
was concentrated by freezing the sap and removing the
frozen water or by dropping hot stones into the buckets
to evaporate the water. The production of maple syrup is
one of the only agricultural processes that evolved in
Early European colonists in the northeastern part of
North America learned the basics of maple syrup
collection from the native people. The indigenous people
showed the colonists when and which trees to tap. Fur
trader and European settlers were involved in the maple
harvest by the 1680’s. The Europeans adapted the methods
used by the Native Americans to make the harvest less
destructive and more sustainable. Instead of slicing the
bark to release the sap the Europeans used augers to
drill small holes into the trees. This method is similar
to what is used today. Maple syrup was an important
commodity in liquid and sugar form in the 17th and 18th
centuries because it was used in place of cane sugar.
Cane sugar was expensive because it had to be imported
from the West Indies.
syrup and sugar have played an important role in the
history of the United States. After the passage of the
1764 Sugar Act, which imposed high tariffs on imported
sugar, maple sugar became even more popular.
Before he became president, Thomas Jefferson liked the
idea that maple sugar could be produced by citizens of
the new nation and help sever it’s dependence on sugar
grown on plantations in the British Caribbean using
slave labor. At the end of a visit to Vermont, in a
speech he gave in Bennington, Jefferson said, "Attention
to our sugar orchards is essentially necessary to secure
the independence of our country."
Wooden buckets were made by cutting a tree down and into
segments; the segments were hollowed out from one end
until a bucket was created. The wooden buckets are
seamless and water tight. After the sap filled the
buckets it was transferred to larger containers like
barrels, hollowed-out logs or large kettles. These
vessels were transported to the sugar shacks by foot or
with the assistance of draft animals.
The process of collecting and boiling syrup was
energy-intensive and time-consuming. After being
collected from the trees the sap had to be transported
to the sugar shack where it would be boiled. Large
collection areas usually had a central sugar shack where
all all of the syrup was made. Draft horses or oxen were
used to pull large barrels of sap to the boiling
location. The sap was poured into large metal kettles
and boiled over large fires until the desired
consistency was reached.
In the 1860’s syrup production underwent a major
evolution. The large round kettles were replaced with
large flat pans. Flat pans are more efficient for
condensing syrup because they provide more surface area
for evaporation. Following the civil war cane sugar
overtook maple sugar as the top sweetener in the United
States. Many marketing efforts were put in place to
promote maple syrup. In 1858 the first evaporator was
patented. In 1872 a more advanced evaporator was
developed, it decreased the boiling time and was crafted
with two pans and a metal firebox. Circa 1900 the design
was adapted again. The bottoms of the evaporating pans
were bent into a series of flues. This design increased
the surface area of the heat source and further
decreased boiling time.
As technology advanced the metal buckets were replaced
by plastic bags that allow the sap collectors to judge
how much sap has been collected from a distance. The
draft animals used to haul barrels of sap were replaced
by tractors. Some produced used metal tubing to move sap
to the evaporator and motor-powered tappers but these
techniques were not widely used. New filtration methods
were developed to keep contaminates out of the syrup and
producers began utilizing different heating methods.
Wood was still popular but oil, natural gas, propane and
steam were also used.
The 1970s were responsible for a large number to
technological changes. Plastic tubing systems were
perfected and largely replaced the bucket and bag
systems. Lines led from the trees directly to the sap
house eliminating the need for tractors to move large
barrels of sap. The tube systems were made more
efficient with the introduction of vacuum pumps and
pre-heaters that recycled heat. Reverse-osmosis machines
were introduced to remove water from the sap, shortening
the boiling time and increasing efficiency.
Advancements in syrup production continue to be made.
Improvements in vacuum pumps, tubing, filtering
techniques, storage containers and preheaters have been
made over the last 20 years. The University of Vermont
developed a new type of wood tap that increases
production, lowers contamination and eliminates the need
for chemical applications at the bore hole.
Changes in technology have streamlined the process of
making maple syrup but they have not changed the
methods. After the sap is collected it is boiled down to
remove the water and make a pure maple syrup free of
chemicals or additives. It takes approximately 43
gallons of sap with 2% sugar to make one gallon of maple
syrup. Sap is usually boiled at 7.4°F above the boiling
point of water; the exact temperature is based on height
above sea level. The initial boiling is usually done in
a large pan of a series of evaporators; it is often
drawn off into smaller pans for finishing under more
A stand of maple trees used to produce maple syrup is
known as a "sugarwood" or "sugarbush". Special buildings
are often built to house the evaporating equipment; they
usually have a special roof to allow steam to escape.
These buildings are known as "sugar shacks," "sugar
houses" and "sugar shanties”. Maple syrup making is one
of the last truly seasonal industries. Sugaring starts
early in the spring, when the days are above freezing
but the night time temperatures dip below freezing. Due
to the large quantity of sap needed to make syrup
sugaring is only done in areas with large tree
populations. Holes are bored in the trunk, usually 3-4
feet off the ground. Small trees will only have a single
hole while larger trees will have 2 or more. Spouts are
inserted into the holes to direct the sap into the
buckets hanging from the spout. The first spouts were
wooden; today they are made from metal.
Maple trees are not tapped until they reach the diameter
of 10 inches, the trees are usually between 30 and 40
years old when tapped. Young trees (diameter 10-17
inches) are only tapped once, trees with a diameter of
18-24 inches are tapped twice and larger trees have 3
taps inserted. The average maple tree will produce 9.2
to 13 gallons of sap each season, up to 3.2 US gallons
per day. This is approximately 7% of its total sap.
Depending on the weather the sugaring season lasts for
four to eight weeks. Starch stored in the roots for the
winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing
it to be tapped during the day. Although taps are
typically left in place overnight sap is not collected
at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow.
Less common than spring tapping some producers also tap
in autumn. Maples can be tapped for sap until they are
over 100 years old.
Maple trees are tapped by boring holes into their trunks
and collecting the exuded sap. Traditionally metal taps
and buckets were used to collect sap from each tree;
today many producers have replaced the bucket system
with plastic tubing running to a central collection
point. The sap is heated, evaporating most of the water,
leaving the concentrated sugar syrup.
Sap collecting lasts as long as the sap remains ‘sweet’.
The duration of the collecting season is based on
weather conditions. If the weather is too cold the sap
will not run and syrup production will stop. If the
weather is too warn the buds will break and the sap will
change. The sap will no longer taste sweet and will
acquire an unpleasant taste, possibly because of an
increase in amino acids.
The boiling process must be strictly controlled to
result in the desired sugar content. If the syrup is not
boiled for long enough it will be watery and can easily
spoil. Syrup that is boiled too long with crystallize
and turn onto maple sugar. Finished maple syrup has a
density of 66° on the Brix scale. After boiling the
syrup is filtered to remove “sugar sand” crystals formed
from sugar and calcium malate. Sugar sand is not toxic
but can add a gritty texture to finished syrup. The
syrup is then graded and bottled while still hot,
usually around 180°F or higher. Containers are made from
glass, metal or coated plastic and are flipped after
filling to allow the hot syrup to sterilize the cap.
Maple syrup can be intentionally heated longer to create
maple sugar, maple cream or butter and maple candy.
Contaminants in the boiling equipment (most likely
cleaners), fermentation in sap that has sat too long,
and sap collected too late in the season can all cause
off-flavored syrup. It is sometimes, though not always
possible to remove these flavors through processing.
province of Quebec in Canada is responsible for about
three-quarters of the world's output; in the United
States Vermont is the largest producer, generating about
5.5 percent of the global supply.
Some other countries have produced maple syrup on a
small scale, for example in Japan and South Korea. In
South Korea it is traditional to consume gorosoe (maple
sap) instead of processing it into syrup. In 2010 10.1
percent of Canada's maple syrup exports went to Japan.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan also produce maple syrup using
the box elder or Manitoba maple. The yield from a
Manitoba maple tree is usually less than half that of a
similarly sized sugar maple tree. The syrup from a
Manitoba maple has a different flavor than sugar-maple
syrup; the tree's sap flows more slowly and it contains
Maple syrup is ranked or graded according to the United
States, Vermont, or Canada scales based on its
translucency and density. Sucrose is the most prevalent
sugar in maple syrup and small amounts of Fructose and
Glucose are also present. In Canada, syrups must be at
least 66 percent sugar and be made exclusively from
maple sap to qualify as maple syrup. In the United
States, syrups must be made almost entirely from maple
sap to be labeled as "maple”, small amounts of
substances such as salt are allowed. “Maple flavored”
syrups must contain real maple syrup but salt, chemical
preservatives and defoaming agents are allowed.
The United States has its own grading standards. Syrup
is divided into two grades: Grade A and Grade B. Grade A
is further divided into three levels: Light Amber or
Fancy, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. The Vermont Agency
of Agriculture Food and Markets grading system is
similar and is roughly the same, especially for lighter
syrups, but designates grades using letters: "AA", "A",
etc. The Vermont grading system maintains a slightly
higher standard of product density (measured on the
Baumé scale). New Hampshire holds a similar standard,
but does not have a separate state grading scale. The
Vermont-graded product has 0.9 percent more sugar and
therefore less water in its composition than US-graded.
Commercial or Grade C syrup (syrup not for table use) is
also produced under the Vermont system. Vermont
inspectors strictly enforce syrup grading regulations,
and will fine producers up to $1000 for incorrectly
Extra Light and Grade A typically have the mildest maple
flavor. Grade B is very dark with a strong maple flavor.
The dark grades of syrup are preferred for cooking and
baking but some specialty dark syrups are produced for
table use. People who appreciate the strong maple flavor
use Grade B exclusively. The US classification of maple
syrup depends on its translucence. US Grade A Light
Amber has to be more than 75 percent translucent, US
Grade A Medium Amber has to be 60.5 to 74.9 percent
translucent, US Grade A Dark Amber has to be 44.0 to
60.4 percent translucent, and US Grade B is any product
less than 44.0 percent translucent.
The Canadian ranking system is overseen by the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Syrup is designated with
one of three grades, each with several color classes.
The grades are Canada No. 1, including Extra Light,
Light, and Medium; No. 2 Amber; and No. 3 Dark or any
other ungraded category. Producers in Ontario and Québec
have the choice of following either provincial or
federal grading guidelines. The grading systems in
Québec and Ontario are slightly different from the
federal. In Québec there are two categories (Number 1,
with four color classes, and Number 2, with five color
classes). Ontario's producers have two "number" grades:
1, with three color classes; and 2, which is typically
referred to as "Ontario Amber" when produced and sold in
the province. A typical yield for a maple syrup producer
will be between 25 and 30 percent of each of the #1
colors, 10 percent #2 Amber, and 2 percent #3 Dark.
caloric content of maple syrup is similar to sugar.
However 13 grams of maple syrup (a little less than a
tablespoon) contains 22% of the FDA daily value of
manganese. The same amount of syrup contains 3.7% of the
daily value of zinc. Maple syrup has 15 times as much
calcium as honey and 1/10 of the sodium.
Scientists are studying the natural phenols found in
maple syrup for potentially beneficial antioxidant
compounds relevant to type 2 diabetes. Thirty four new
compounds have been discovered, 5 of which have never
been seen in nature. One of those new compounds is
quebecol, a phenolic compound created when maple sap is
heated and reduced to make syrup.
The three species of maple trees are predominantly used
to produce maple syrup are the sugar maple (Acer
saccharum), the black maple (A. nigrum), and the red
maple (A. rubrum). These species are preferred because
of the high sugar content (roughly two to five percent)
in the sap. Some botanists include the black maple as a
subspecies of A. saccharum, the sugar maple. Red maple
has a shorter season which alters the flavor of the sap
because it buds earlier than sugar and black maples.
Not all species of maple (Acer) are used as sources of
sap for producing maple syrup but the box elder or
Manitoba maple (Acer negundo), the silver maple (A.
sacharinum), and the bigleaf maple (A. macrophyllum) are
sometimes used. Tree sap syrups may also be produced
from palm trees, birch trees and other sources.