Maple syrup is a syrup usually made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees, although syrup can also be made from other maple species such as the Bigleaf Maple. In cold climate areas, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water. Quebec, Canada, produces most of the world's supply of maple syrup.
Maple syrup was first collected and used by First Nations and Native Americans, and was later adopted by European settlers. It is most often eaten with waffles, pancakes, oatmeal (porridge), crumpets, and French toast. It is also used as an ingredient in baking, or as a sweetener and flavoring agent. Sucrose is the most prevalent sugar in maple syrup.
Maple syrup is graded according to the Canada, US or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. Syrups must be at least 66 percent sugar to qualify as "maple syrup" in Canada; in the US, any syrup not made almost entirely from maple sap cannot be labeled as "maple". Maple syrup and the sugar maple tree are symbols of Canada and several US states, particularly Vermont.
A 19th-century illustration, "Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North"
Aboriginal peoples living in the northeastern part of North America were the first people known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar. According to their oral traditions, as well as archaeological evidence, maple tree sap, which they called "sweet water" or "Sinzibuckwud" (lit. "drawn from trees"), was being processed for its sugar content long before Europeans arrived in the region. There are no authenticated accounts of maple syrup production and consumption among early aboriginal groups. Various legends exist as to the origins of maple syrup production; one of the most popular involves maple sap being used to cook venison served to a chief. Many aboriginal dishes replaced the salt traditional in Europe with maple sugar or syrup.
The Algonquins recognized the sap as a source of energy and nutrition. At the beginning of the spring thaw, they used stone tools to make V-shaped incisions in tree trunks; they then inserted reeds or concave pieces of bark to run the sap into buckets, which were often made from birch bark. The maple sap was concentrated either by dropping hot cooking stones into the buckets, or by leaving them exposed to the cold temperatures overnight and disposing of the layer of ice which formed on top. Production of maple syrup is one of only a few agricultural processes in North America that is not a European colonial import.
In the early stages of European colonization in north-eastern North America, native peoples showed the arriving colonists how to tap the trunks of certain types of maples during the early-spring thaw to harvest the sap. By 1680, European settlers and fur traders were involved in harvesting maple products. During the 17th and 18th centuries, processed maple sap was a source of concentrated sugar, in both liquid and crystallized-solid form.
Typically, maple sugaring parties began to operate at the start of the spring thaw in regions of woodland known to contain sufficiently large numbers of maples. They first bored holes in the trunks of the maples, usually more than one hole per large tree, inserted home-made wooden spouts into the holes, and then hung a wooden bucket from the protruding end of each spout to collect the sap. The buckets were commonly made by cutting cylindrical segments from a large tree-trunk and then hollowing out each segment's core from one end of the cylinder, creating a seamless watertight container. Sap slowly filled the buckets; members of the sugaring party periodically returned to retrieve the sap that had accumulated. It was then either transferred to larger holding vessels (barrels, large pots, or hollowed-out wooden logs), often mounted on sledges or wagons pulled by draft animals, or it was carried in buckets or other convenient containers. The sap-collection buckets were returned to the spouts mounted on the trees, and the process was repeated for as long as the flow of sap remained "sweet". The specific weather conditions of the thaw period were, and still are, critical in determining the length of the "sugaring" season. As the weather continues to warm, a maple tree's normal early spring biological process eventually alters the taste of the sap, making it unpalatable.
The boiling process was time-consuming. The harvested sap was transported back to the party's base camp, where it was then poured into large, usually metal vessels and boiled to achieve the desired consistency. The sap was usually processed at a central collection point, either over a fire built out in the open or inside a shelter built for that purpose. To protect themselves from the weather, sugaring parties built a small camp. By the 1850s, the "sugar shack" or "sugarhouse", the outdoor shack or building used to boil down the sap, had developed. The sap was transported using large barrels pulled by horses or oxen and brought to the sugar shack for processing.
Production methods have been streamlined since colonial days, yet remain basically the same. Sap must first be collected and boiled down carefully to obtain pure syrup without chemical agents or preservatives. Maple syrup was made by boiling between 20 to 50 litres (5.3 to 13 US gal) of sap (depending on its concentration) over an open fire until one liter of syrup was obtained. Around the time of the American Civil War, syrup makers started using a large flat sheet metal pan as it was more efficient for boiling than a heavy rounded iron kettle, because it created a greater surface area for evaporation. Around this time, cane sugar replaced maple sugar as the dominant sweetener in the US; as a result, producers focused their marketing efforts on maple syrup.
The first evaporator, used to heat and concentrate sap, was patented in 1858. In 1872 an evaporator was developed that featured two pans and a metal arch or firebox, which greatly decreased boiling time. Around 1900, producers bent the tin that formed the bottom of a pan into a series of flues which increased the heated surface area of the pan and again decreased boiling time. Some producers also added a finishing pan, a separate batch evaporator, as a final stage in the evaporation process.
Two taps in a maple tree, using plastic tubing for sap collection.
Buckets began to be replaced with plastic bags, which allowed people to see at a distance how much sap had been collected. Syrup producers also began using tractors to haul vats of sap from the sugarbush to the evaporator. Some producers adopted motor-powered tappers and metal tubing systems to convey sap from the tree to a central collection container, but these techniques were not widely used. Heating methods also diversified: modern producers use wood, oil, natural gas, propane, or steam to evaporate sap. Modern filtration methods were perfected to prevent contamination of the syrup.
During the 1970s, a large number of technological changes took place. Plastic tubing systems which had been experimented with since the early part of the century were perfected, and the sap came directly from the tree to the evaporator house. Vacuum pumps were added to the tubing systems. Pre-heaters were developed to recycle heat lost in the steam. Reverse-osmosis machines were developed to take a portion of water out of the sap before it was boiled.
Improvements in tubing, use of vacuum, new filtering techniques, "supercharged" preheaters, and better storage containers have since been developed. Research continues on pest control and improved woodlot management. In 2009, researchers at the University of Vermont unveiled a new type of tap which prevents backflow of sap into the tree, reducing bacterial contamination and preventing the tree from attempting to heal the bore hole.
Maple syrup production is centered in northeastern North America; however, given the correct weather conditions, it can be made wherever maple trees grow. Usually, the maple species used are the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), the red maple (Acer rubrum) and the black maple (Acer nigrum), because of the high sugar content in the sap – roughly two to five percent. Red maple has a shorter season because it buds earlier than sugar and black maples, altering the flavor of the sap. Silver maples and other maple species are occasionally also tapped. A maple syrup production farm is called a "sugar bush" or "sugarwood". Sap is often boiled in a "sugar house" (also known as a "sugar shack", "sugar shanty" or cabane à sucre), a building which is louvered at the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.
Maples are usually tapped beginning between 30 and 40 years of age. Each tree can support between one and three taps, depending on its trunk diameter. The average maple tree will produce between 35 to 50 litres (9.2 to 13 US gal) of sap per season, up to 12 litres (3.2 US gal) per day. This is roughly equal to 7 percent of its total sap. Seasons last for four to eight weeks, depending on the weather. During the day, starch stored in the roots for the winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing it to be tapped. Sap is not tapped at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.
Food and nutrition
Nutritional value per 100 ml
Energy 1,389 kJ
Carbohydrates 88.00 g
- Sugars 88.00 g
- Dietary fibre 0 g
Fat 0.20 g
Protein 0 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.006 mg
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.01 mg
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.03 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.036 mg
Vitamin B6 0.002 mg
Calcium 93 mg
Iron 1.20 mg
Magnesium 27 mg
Manganese 3.298 mg
Phosphorus 2 mg
Potassium 267 mg
Zinc 4.16 mg
The basic ingredient in maple syrup is the sap from the xylem of the trees. It consists primarily of sucrose and water, with only small amounts of other sugars such as fructose and glucose. Organic acids, most notably malic acid, make the syrup slightly acidic. Maple syrup has a relatively low mineral content. Potassium and calcium make up most of this mineral content, but maple syrup also contains nutritionally significant amounts of zinc and manganese. Maple syrup contains trace amounts of amino acids, which may contribute to the "buddy" flavour of syrup produced late in the season, as the amino acid content of sap increases at this time. Additionally, maple syrup contains a wide variety of volatile organic compounds, including vanillin, hydroxybutanone, and propionaldehyde. It is not yet known exactly which compounds are primarily responsible for maple syrup's flavour.
Maple syrup is similar to sugar calorie-wise, but is a source of manganese, with 13.33 grams (0.470 oz) containing about 0.44 milligrams (1.6×10−5 oz) or 22 percent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Daily Value (DV%) of 2 milligrams (7.1×10−5 oz). It is also a source of zinc with 13.33 grams (0.470 oz) containing 0.55 milligrams (1.9×10−5 oz) or 3.7 percent of the FDA Daily Value (DV%) of 15 milligrams (0.00053 oz). Compared to honey, maple syrup has 15 times more calcium and 1/10 as much sodium.
British culinary expert Delia Smith described maple syrup as "a unique ingredient, smooth and silky textured, with a sweet, distinctive flavour - hints of caramel with overtones of toffee will not do - and a rare colour, amber set alight. Maple flavour is, well, maple flavour, uniquely different from any other." Maple syrup and its artificial imitations are used as toppings for pancakes, waffles, and French toast in North America. Maple syrup can also be used to flavor a variety of foods, including: biscuits, fritters, ice cream, hot cereal, and fresh fruit. It is also used as sweetener for applesauce, baked beans, candied sweet potatoes, winter squash, cakes, pies, breads, fudge and other candy, milkshakes, tea, coffee, and hot toddies. Maple syrup can also be used as a replacement for honey in wine (mead).
Scientists have recently found that maple syrup phenolics[disambiguation needed] -- the beneficial antioxidant compounds -- inhibit two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to type 2 diabetes. In the study 34 new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup were discovered, five of which have never been seen in nature. Among the five new compounds discovered is quebecol, a compound created when the Maple tree sap is boiled to create syrup.