is a sweetener
made from the sap
trees. In cold climate areas, these
trees store sugar in their roots before the winter and the sap
which rises in the spring can be tapped and concentrated.
produces most of the world's supply of maple syrup.
United States is the only other major producer and the leading
Maple syrup is most often eaten with waffles
. It is sometimes used as
an ingredient in baking
, the making of
, preparing desserts
, or as a sugar
and flavoring agent in making beer
is the most prevalent sugar in maple syrup.
It was first collected and used by Native
later adopted by European settlers.
Pre-contact native peoples, living in the northeastern part of
, 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 was being processed for its sugar content long before
Europeans arrived in the region.
recognized the sap as a
source of energy and nutrition. At the beginning of the spring
thaw, they used stone tools
V-shaped incisions in the trees, then inserted reeds or concave
pieces of bark to run the sap into buckets, which were often made
from birch bark. The maple sap, already rich in sugar content and
sweet-tasting, 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.
and Native Americans
cooking pots to boil
the maple sap. They heated it over simple fires protected only by a
roof of tree branches.
Colonial to modern times
A 19th-century illustration,
"Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North" (note the use of
metal containers, introduced as a result of European contact)
In the early stages of European colonization, in north-eastern
North America, native peoples showed the arriving colonists how to
tap (into) the trunks of certain types of maple tree during the
end-of-winter/early-spring thaw, harvest the sap, and boil it to
evaporate some of the water, concentrating the sugar content within
the remaining liquid, and altering its taste somewhat, by
some of the sugars.
This activity quickly became an integral part of colonial life.
Well before the beginning of the 1700s, European settlers and fur
traders, as well as Native Americans, were intensively involved in
the industry. During the 17th and 18th centuries, processed maple
sap was a major source of concentrated sugar, in both liquid and
crystallized-solid form. The Europeans revised the processing
methods somewhat, with their access to more advanced technologies;
particularly in metallurgy, toolmaking, and the use of domesticated
animals. 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, concentrated within a
reasonable range of transportation to justify the effort. They
first bored holes in the trunks of the maples, usually more than
one hole per large tree, inserted home-made (usually carved 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 bucket-sized cylindrical segments from an
appropriately 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, drop by drop.
Periodically, members of the sugaring party 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 similarly 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 late-winter/early-spring "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. Depending on conditions, a sugaring party could
spend several days to several weeks engaged in these activities.
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, (almost always) 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 conditions of the very early spring, sugaring parties
built a small camp. Often, whole families moved into the woods
together to collect and boil the sap producing both maple syrup and
By the 1850s, the "sugar shack" or "sugarhouse" (the outdoor shack
or building used to boil down the sap) arrived as we know it today.
The settlers had refined the methods for collecting the sap. The
sap was transported using large barrels pulled by horses or oxen
and brought to the sugar shack for processing. At this time, maple
sugar was the only sugar available as other types of sugar were
hard to find and expensive and was called “country
sugar”.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.
Early maple syrup was made by boiling approximately forty gallons
(160 l) of sap over an open fire until one gallon (4 l)
of syrup was obtained.
This process underwent little change over the first two hundred
years of recorded maple syrup making. 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 which let much of the
heated air slide past.
Virtually all syrup makers in the past were self-sufficient dairy
farmers who made both syrup and sugar for their own use and for
extra income. The process continued to evolve as a result of the
innovations developed in their work. In 1864, a Canadian borrowed
some design ideas from sorghum evaporators and put a series of
baffles in the flat pans to channel the boiling sap. In 1872 a
Vermonter developed an evaporator with two pans and a metal arch or
firebox which greatly decreased boiling time. Seventeen years
later, in 1889, another Canadian 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.
The technology remained the same until the 1960s, when it was no
longer a self sufficient enterprise with large families as farm
hands. Because syrup making was so labor intensive, farmers could
no longer afford to hire the large crews it took to gather all the
buckets and haul the sap to the evaporator house. During the energy
crunch of the 1970s, syrup makers responded with another surge of
technological breakthroughs. 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. Several producers even obtained surplus
desalinization machines from the U.S. Navy and used them to take a
portion of water out of the sap prior to boiling.
The technological developments continue. Improvements in tubing,
new filtering techniques, "supercharged" preheaters, and better
storage containers have been developed. Research continues on pest
control and improved woodlot management. In 2009, 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
syrup production is centered in northeastern North America, and is
commonly associated with Quebec in Canada;
however, given the correct weather conditions, it can be made
wherever maple trees grow.
Usually, the maple species used
are the sugar maple (Acer
) and the black maple (Acer nigrum
), because of a high sugar
content in the sap of roughly two percent. A maple syrup production
farm is called a "sugar bush
" or "the
sugarwoods". Sap is often boiled in a "sugar
" (also known as a "sugar shack" or cabane à
), a building which is louvered
the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.
Canada makes more than 80 percent of the world's maple syrup,
producing about 26.5 million litres in 2005. The vast majority of
this comes from Quebec: the
province is by far the world's largest producer, with about 75
percent of the world production (24.66 million litres in
Production in Quebec is controlled through a
supply-management system, with producers receiving quota allotments
Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec
. The province
also maintains it own "strategic reserves" of maple syrup, which
reached its highest point in 2004, when it totalled 60 million
pounds, or 17.03 million litres.
provinces of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, Prince Edward
Island, and British Columbia produce smaller amounts. The province of
produces maple syrup using the sap off the Manitoba Maple tree
(acer negundo, also known as a "Box
Manitoba Maple syrup is much darker in colour and
flavour than maple syrup made from a sugar maple, and the
difference between the two is akin to that between golden brown
sugar and dark brown sugar.
the biggest U.S. producer, with in 2009, followed by Maine with and
York with . Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all produced marketable quantities of maple syrup
of less than each in 2009.
Two taps in a maple tree, using
plastic tubing for sap collection.
Traditionally, maple syrup was harvested by tapping a maple tree
through the bark and into the wood, then letting the sap run into a
bucket, which required daily collecting; less labour-intensive
methods such as the use of continuous plastic pipelines have since
superseded this, in all but cottage-scale production.
Production is concentrated in February, March, and April, depending
on local weather conditions. Freezing nights and warm days are
needed in order to induce sap flows. The change in temperature from
above to below freezing causes water uptake from the soil, and
temperatures above freezing cause a stem pressure to develop,
which, along with gravity, causes sap to flow out of tapholes or
other wounds in the stem or branches. To collect the sap, holes are
bored into the maple trees and tubes (taps, spouts, spiles
) are inserted. Sap flows through the spouts
into buckets or into plastic tubing. Modern use of plastic tubing
with a partial vacuum
has enabled increased
production. A hole must be drilled in a new location each year, as
the old hole will produce sap for only one season due to the
natural healing process of the tree, called walling-off. Maple sap
is collected from the buckets and taken to the sugar house
; if plastic tubing and pipelines are
used, then the pipelines are arranged so that the sap will flow by
gravity into the sugar house
, or if that
is not possible, into holding tanks from which the sap is pumped or
transported by tanker truck to the sugar house.
A small scale evaporation pan used in
A sugar house where sap is boiled down
to maple syrup.
It takes approximately 40 litres (10 gal) of sap to be boiled
down to 1 litre (1 quart) of syrup. A mature sugar maple produces
about 40 litres of sap during the 4- to 6-week sugaring season.
Trees are not tapped until they have a diameter of 25 cm
(10 in) at chest-height and the tree is at least 40 years old.
If the tree is more than it can be tapped twice on opposite sides.
It is recommended that the drilled tap hole have a width of
8 mm (⅓ in) and a depth of .During cooking, the sap is
fed automatically by pipe from a storage tank to a long and narrow
ridged pan called the evaporator. The evaporator is usually divided
into two sections, the front pan and the back pan. As the sap
boils, the water evaporates; it becomes denser and sweeter. As the
density of the sap increases, it works its way from the rear of the
back evaporator pan to the front evaporator pan. The syrup is
boiled until it reaches the correct density of maple syrup,
. The proper density of at least 66%
sugar is reached when the boiling sap reached a temperature of .
The density is tested with a hydrometer. If the density is too low
the syrup will not be sweet enough and the syrup will spoil. If the
density is too high the syrup will crystallize in bottles. When the
syrup has reached the proper density, it is drawn off, filtered and
bottled while hot.
Starting in the 1970s, some maple syrup producers started using
to remove water from
sap before being further boiled down to syrup. The use of reverse
osmosis allows approximately 75 to 80% of the water to be removed
from the sap prior to boiling, reducing energy consumption and
exposure of the syrup to high temperatures. Microbial contamination
and degradation of
has to be
Maple syrup is sometimes boiled down further to make maple sugar
, a hard candy usually sold in
pressed blocks, and maple taffy
Intermediate levels of boiling can also be used to create various
intermediate products, including maple
(less hard and granular than maple sugar) and maple butter
(creamy, with a consistency
slightly less thick than peanut butter). During the production
season in New England, a traditional delicacy known as
"sugar-on-snow" is often prepared by drizzling superheated maple
syrup over snow or shaved ice, resulting in a chewy taffy-like
Starting in the mid 80's, northern communities in the province of
Quebec began to open the "Cabane à Sucre" or Sugar Shacks to the
public. These sugar shacks were generally located on large maple
farms and often were built solely for tourist purposes. These sugar
shacks serve maple syrup direct to the public and also are often
restaurants serving maple syrup inspired meals and treats.
Canadian, U.S., and Vermont grading
In Canada, there are three grades containing several color classes,
ranging from Canada #1
, including Extra Light
(sometimes known as AA
); through #2
); and finally #3 Dark
). A typical
year's yield will include about 25–30% of each of the #1 colors,
10% Amber, and 2% Dark. Number 2 grade syrups are aimed at baking
and flavouring but are also popular on pancakes and waffles. In
addition, Canada #2 Amber may be labeled Ontario Amber
farm sales in that province only. Number 3 grade syrup is heavy,
and restricted for use in commercial flavourings.
The United States uses somewhat different grading standards. Maple
syrup is divided into two major grades: Grade A
. Grade A is further broken down into three
subgrades: Light Amber
(sometimes known as
), Medium Amber
, and Dark Amber
Grade B is darker than Grade A Dark Amber. The Vermont Agency of
Agriculture Food and Markets
uses a similar grading system of
color and taste. The grade Vermont Fancy
is similar in
color and taste to U.S Grade A Light (Fancy). The Vermont grading
system differs from the U.S. system in maintaining a slightly
higher standard of product density. Vermont maple is boiled just a
bit longer for a slightly thicker, denser product. The ratio of the
volume of sap to the yielded volume of finished syrup is higher in
the Vermont system. Maple syrup is sold by liquid
, not weight. The Vermont graded product has one-half
percent more solid material and less water in its composition. A
non-table grade of syrup called commercial
, or Grade
, is also produced. This is very dark, with a very strong
flavor. Commercial maple syrup is generally used as a flavoring
agent in other products.
The grades roughly correspond to various times within the season
when syrups are produced. Canada #1 Extra Light and U.S. Grade A
Light Amber are early-season grades, while Canada #2 and #3 and
U.S. Grade B are late-season grades. Typically #1 Extra Light and
Grade A (especially Grade A Light Amber) has a milder, more
delicate flavor than #3 or Grade B, which is very dark with a
robust flavor. The dark grades of syrup are primarily used for
cooking and baking.
Sometimes off-flavours are found in maple syrup. While this is more
common toward the end of the season in the production of commercial
grade product, it may also be present early in the season during
the production of Canada #1 grade or U.S. Grade A Light.
Identification of off-flavour in table grades is cause for ceasing
production and either dumping the product or reclassifying the
product as commercial grade if the off-flavour is slight.
Off-flavours are described as: metabolism,
changes in the tree as spring
arrives and having either a woody, popcorn, or sometimes
peanutbutter-like flavour; buddy,
referring to the
swelling of the new buds and its impact on the flavour and having a
bitter chocolate or burnt flavour; and ferment,
off-taste caused by fermentation
and having a honey
or fruity flavour, often accompanied by surface foam. Additionally,
if trees are stressed or fighting off disease or insects (eg.
), they will produce a
folic-like acid causing a bad taste. After an ice storm, trees may
also produce the same acid.
Use in food and cultural significance
Maple syrup and its artificial imitations are the preferred
toppings for pancakes
, and French toast
in North America
.Maple syrup can also
be used for a variety of uses, including: biscuits
, fresh donuts
, ice cream
, and fresh fruit
). It is also used as sweetener for
, candied sweet potatoes
and other candy
, and hot toddies
Maple syrup and maple sugar were used during the American Civil War
and by abolitionists
in the years prior to the war
because most cane sugar
was produced by Southern slaves
. During food rationing
in World War II
, people in the
northeastern United States were encouraged to stretch their sugar
rations by sweetening foods with maple syrup and maple sugar, and
recipe books were printed to help housewives employ this alternate
Ontario, and New
England, the process has become part of the culture.
One tradition is going to sugar houses (cabanes à sucre
in early spring for meals served with maple syrup. A typical
offering is pancakes, baked beans and sausages, usually followed by
a sugar on snow ("tire sur la neige" in Quebec), or sometimes by
in English Canada
. Sugar on snow is thickened
hot syrup poured onto fresh snow and then eaten off sticks as it
quickly cools. This thick maple syrup-based candy can be served in
some cases served with yeast-risen doughnuts
, sour dill
, and coffee
Owing to the sugar maple tree's predominance in southeastern Canada
(where Europeans settled in what was to become Canada), its leaf
has come to symbolize the country, and is depicted on its flag.
Several U.S. states
, including New York
and Vermont, have the sugar maple as their state tree
. A scene of sap collection is depicted on the
Vermont state quarter as
well as the tins of the Vermont Maple Sugar
Makers' Association, a non-governmental agricultural
organization that works to protect the integrity and purity of
Vermont maple products, and to promote its historic significance to
the culture of Vermont.
Imitation maple syrup
In the United States, "Maple syrup" must be made entirely from
maple sap (small amounts of substances such as salt may be added).
"Maple-flavored" syrups contain maple, but also other (cheaper)
ingredients. "Pancake syrup", "waffle syrup", "table syrup", and
similarly-named syrups are imitations, which are less expensive
than real maple syrup. In these syrups, the primary ingredient is
most often high fructose corn
flavored with sotolon
, having no
genuine maple content. They are usually thickened far beyond the
of real maple syrup. U.S.
these products from having "maple" in their names.
seed, a spice, can be
prepared to have a maple syrup-like flavor, and is used to make a
very strong commercial flavoring that is similar to maple syrup,
but much less expensive; Mapleine
is an example of this.
Smells from a Frutarom
factory produced a maple syrup-like odor that occasionally covered
New York City starting in 2005, being identified in 2009 as coming
from a Hudson County Frutarom factory.
Québécois sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de
("pole syrup"), a joke referring to the syrup as having
been made by tapping telephone
In 1905, Crescent Foods Inc. created the imitation maple flavoring
called Mapleine. Bought out by McCormick spices, it still
distributes "Crescent Mapleine" from limited production runs.
In Australia and South Africa, imitation maple syrup is sold as
"Maple flavoured syrup".
Identification of maple trees
Maple trees most commonly tapped for sap collection are Sugar Maple
, Red Maple
, and Silver Maple
. These maple trees are common in
Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States. The Sugar Maple and
Black Maple provide the highest sugar content, and therefore are
ideal for a better maple syrup yield and shorter boiling times.
Quicker boiling often makes for a higher grade syrup. The bark on
the Sugar Maple is dark gray to brown and has developed vertical
grooves and ridges, often broken up by plates of bark. The leaf is
rounded at the base, extending to generally 5 lobes without fine
teeth (compared to Red and Silver Maples). The color is bright
green, with a paler green underside. Sugar Maple fruit has seeds
joined in a straight line, while the wings are separated by
approximately 60 degrees. Each winged seed is about 1 inch
(25 mm) long and matures in the fall.
- Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association
- E.g., 21 CFR §168.140 (USA).
- E.g., 21 CFR §168.180 (USA).
- 21 CFR §§168.140(a), 168.180(c).
- HistoryLink Essay: Crescent Manufacturing Company
- Identification of Maple Trees