This week at school I had a guest speaker in my nutrition class who talked about maple syrup. What he shared was really interesting so I thought I’d share it with you all!
To start with, I think it is safe to say that Canada and maple syrup are pretty much synonymous. Maple syrup is one of the first things people think of when they think of Canada. The Canadian flag even boasts the leaf of the sugar maple, which is the main tree maple syrup comes from! This makes it no surprise that Canada is the major producer of maple syrup in the world, accounting for 85% of the world’s maple syrup production. Interestingly, this production comes from only four of the ten provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The other 15% of syrup production comes from the Northeastern part of the United States.
History of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup was discovered by the Native population, but there is no written history about its discovery so the belief is that it was probably discovered by accident. Today, the basic use of the tree sap is for maple syrup but back then they had no container to store such a thing, so they preserved food by either salting it or drying it.
Native settlers took the tree sap, which is composed of 98% water and 2% sugar, and boiled it to remove all the water. The end product was a hard block of maple sugar. A piece could then be broken off and boiled in water to make syrup, or simply grated to make sugar.
Making Maple Syrup Today
Maple producers today tap anywhere from 5000 to 60,000 trees each! After a day of sap running (i.e. tapping), a truck comes and takes the sap to the sugar camp (building where sap is processed). The sap is boiled until it reaches the industry standard of at least 66% sugar, but no more than 68%, otherwise sugar crystals start to form and it is no longer “syrup”. When the product is finished (determined by temperature and gravity), the sap is drained, filtered and stored in stainless steel drums. These drums then wait to be purchased from companies who can bottle the syrup and sell it to customers!
Grades of Maple Syrup
If you have ever bought real maple syrup, you may have noticed that there were different colors. These different colors are called “grades.” At the beginning of the season the sap is very light, but darkens as the season continues. This means the chemistry of the sap is different every day of the season, and thus gives the different grades of syrup.
The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor. We got to taste three different grades of syrup: amber (dark), medium and light. Nothing like shots of maple syrup at 9am!
Other Maple Products
Turns out maple syrup is not the only thing “maple” that is made from maple sap. The guest speaker showed us a variety of other products including maple butter, maple sugar, maple coffee, and surprisingly maple wine, maple pepper and maple barbecue sauce!
Health of Maple Syrup
As noted in my Natural Sweeteners post, maple syrup is indeed a much healthier option than white refined sugar because it is a natural product. The downside, is that it is low in nutrients compared to the energy it provides, so it is basically just a flavoring and/or sweetener. There really is no nutritional value.
There are over 75 varieties of maple trees but only 2-3 that can be used to make syrup – wow! Trees also have to be 50-75 years old before they can first be tapped, however once tapped, they can be tapped again and again for over 100 years!
It has been proven that the long-term income is greater from tapping the tree, than if you were to cut it down for timber or firewood. Interesting!
If you have never had real maple syrup, you better call your nearest Canadian friend and get them to send you some pronto! Its sweet taste has nothing on Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima!
I am proud to call a country with such a divine delicacy my home!