Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sweet Facts for Maple Syrupers

I recently attended a Maple Syrup Festival. The festival included learning the history and basics of maple syruping, participating in a taste test of real maple syrup and artificial “pancake” or “table” syrup, and tasting maple sugar (which, for the record, was delicious). 

I left the festival with not only a greater understanding and appreciation for the amount of time and labor that it takes to make maple syrup, but an interest in the maple syrup industry and how maple syrup production differs among hobby maple syrupers and industrial maple syrupers. Below are some of the “sweet” facts that I found:

  1.  The Basic Process. Maple syrup production generally requires four steps: (1) find a healthy maple tree; (2) make a hole in the tree trunk; (3) place a spile in the hole to collect the sap; and (4) cook the sap over a fire to boil off the extra water. Once the water is boiled off, you are left with syrup! 
  2. A LOT of Sap is Required to Make Syrup. The sap of Sugar Maple Trees has the highest sugar content of all of the maple species, and it takes approximately 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
  3. Running a Commercial Operation is High-Tech. While hobby maple syrupers may use sap bags, buckets and an old stove to make maple syrup, commercial producers seek to increase efficiency during every step of the process. Many commercial producers use vacuum pumps to increase sap flow, fossil fuels instead of firewood to boil the sap, and special equipment to shorten the boiling time. 
  4. TheUSDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has three grades of maple syrup. U.S. Grade A maple syrup has good color, flavor and odor, is practically free from defects and is practically clear. Within U.S. Grade A, there are three classifications: light amber, medium amber and dark amber, which have different tastes. U.S. Grade B maple syrup has fairly good color, flavor and odor, is fairly free from defects, is fairly clear, and is used for reprocessing and cannot be packaged in consumer size containers. U.S. Grade B maple syrup is often used in cooking and baking. Finally, Substandard grade maple syrup doesn’t meet the requirements for U.S. Grade B.
  5. The Biggest Producers in the U.S. and North America. Vermont is generally the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States, producing more than half a million gallons each year. Quebec is the largest producer in North America, and produces over 6.5 million gallons of maple syrup per year.
  6. Legal Definitions. Many states legally define maple syrup, which may include grade, density, and flavor requirements. 
  7. The Placement of Trees Impacts Sap Production. Soil moisture and fertility, as well as adequately spaced trees all play a role in producing healthy Maple trees. Professional foresters are often consulted to help develop a management plan to maximize sap production while keeping the Maple trees healthy.

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