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!
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
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.
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.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.