Maple Syrup Facts

There is nothing more Canadian than maple syrup!

“Sugar Making...

that short time between winter and spring when the snow starts to melt and the sap begins to flow. This is usually when temperatures are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. Even though there are technological advances in farming, producing maple syrup still remains a “family operation.”

Production of maple syrup only happens in the Maple Belt, the hardwood forest that stretches from the mid-western US through Ontario, Québec and New England and into the Maritimes. The sugar maple tree creates a high-energy sugar inside the leaves, which mixes with the water absorbed in the tree’s roots to form sap then flows through the tree. These sugars mature all winter, and in early spring. As the days become warmer, the sap begins to flow.

Collecting and processing the very sweet sap of the maple tree was known and valued by the native peoples of eastern North America long before the arrival of European settlers. There is an Iroquois legend that explains the discovery of maple syrup.

The story goes: An Iroquois chief pulled his hatchet out of the maple tree where he had left it the night before, and set out for a day of hunting, but didn’t notice the deep gash his blade had left in the tree. Throughout the day, a colourless liquid trickled from that gash, collecting in a birch bark bowl that had been left against the maple tree. The following day, the chief’s wife noticed the bowl full of liquid and assumed it was water. She took it home and used this liquid to cook venison stew. The result was a sweet stew, and this began the tradition of maple-cured meats.

“Sugaring-off” was largely a woman’s function in native communities. Each spring, the community moved from their winter hunting grounds and set up camp in a sugar bush. Each woman in the household had her own sugar hut surrounded by a bush of sugar maples. The men cut notches into the tree trunks and small hand-carved wooden troughs were stuck into the bark. A wooden bowl placed on the ground caught the sap that dripped along the trough. When the bowls were full, the entire family carried the sap to the sugar hut to begin the next stage of making syrup. To evaporate the water from the sap, they placed stones heated in a fire inside the pots of sap – a slow, labourious process.

By watching the native peoples, Canada’s early settlers learned how to tap maple trees and boil the sap down to make syrup. They experimented with native methods and improved upon them. Instead of gashing the bark, settlers drilled holes in the tree, pushing wooden spouts, or spiles, into the holes. They hung buckets from nails below the spiles to protect the buckets from strong winds or animals. They also used iron pots over open fires to evaporate the water.

You will still find this traditional bucket collection in many parts of rural Canada, although it is largely being replaced by a labour-saving system of plastic tubing connected to vacuum pumps for storage of the sap. Even so, the short season of “maple moon” is still a sweet reminder of the hopefulness of spring.

Which Grade is the Sweetest?

All grades of 100% Pure Maple Syrup have the same sugar content because they are 100% pure. However, you may decide one tastes sweeter than another.

Why do I not recognize these names?

In January of 2016, Ontario changed what each grade (colour class) is called with the adoption of the international maple syrup grading system.

Old vs New Classification Guide

Old

Light
Medium
Amber
Dark

New

GOLDEN – Delicate Taste
AMBER – Rich Taste
DARK – Robust Taste
VERY DARK – Strong Taste

How to store: Keep unopened containers of maple syrup in a cool, dry place: the refrigerator or preferably the freezer. The delicate maple flavour is best preserved over a long period by storing in the deep freezer. Once opened, store it and make sure it is tightly closed in the refrigerator or place the unused portion back in the deep freezer.

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