How is maple syrup made?

It’s 17th December, which is National Maple Syrup Day! If you love this rich, sweet, gooey plant product, you may wonder how it’s made and where it comes from. Read on to find out!

Bottle of maple syrup and spoon

Where does maple syrup come from?

Maple syrup comes from, as the name suggests, maple trees. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re bound to have come across many of these large, deciduous trees on a walk through a park or forest.

All but one of the 128 maple species are limited to the Northern Hemisphere (that one rebellious species is Acer laurinum). Any Acer species can be used to create maple syrup; however, one of the main commercial sources, and the most well known for maple syrup production, is the Acer saccharum.

The sugar maple

Acer saccharum
The Acer saccharum, or ‘sugar maple’

Native to North America – mainly Canada – the sugar maple can grow up to 45 metres in height. It’s famed for its brilliant fall foliage, beginning as a fresh green, then turning to sunny yellow, burning orange, fiery red and finally earthy brown.

Sugar maples can live for over 400 years. In fact, the oldest sugar maple tree in Canada is said to be around 500 years old. Though they have a secure conservation status, acid rain, soil acidification and deforestation has lead to a decline in sugar maples, and rise in other similar species.

How do you get maple syrup from a maple tree?

Maple syrup is extracted from a maple tree using a method called maple tapping.

The traditional method of maple tapping involves fitting a spile into the trunk of a mature (around 40 years old) maple tree. The producer will fit a container beneath it to collect the sap, or a tube attached to the tap leading into a container. 

Maple tapping

Tapping occurs in the early spring, when the night temperatures are below freezing and the days are slightly warmer. During the night, the maple draws water from the ground, which is then expressed through pressure from the warmer weather during the day.

This is a traditional method which is not often used in mass production. Modern methods involve suction pumps, which vastly decrease the amount of time it takes to extract the sap.

What happens after maple tapping?

It takes around 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. Once harvested, the sap is taken to a sugar house. There, it gets boiled down into maple syrup, and further boiled for other maple products such as taffy.

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