Over the past few days, I’ve shared my motivation and some background on why I’m so passionate about maple syrup, the history of maple syrup, an overview of some other regional syrups, government regulation and grading of maple syrup, and the recent settlement between Vermont and McDonald’s over their false maple labeling.
Today, I’ll talk about the maple harvest and terminology, maple regional pride, maple tourism, maple and the environment, and the potential health benefits of maple syrup.
Maple Syrup season is one of the first signs of spring in the Northeast. When the night temperature is in the 20′s and the daytime temperatures are in the 40′s is when the maple sap begins to run from the roots up to the branches to nourish the growing leaves. Depending on the location, maple tree sap is collected through February, March and April. Due to changing weather conditions and the recent warming trend, the dates are always changing.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “The Rise and Fall of Maple,” the lighter syrups tend to be those tapped earlier in the season, while the darker, more mapley syrups, are tapped later. As the weather continues to warm, the maple tree’s natural process changes the taste of the sap, making it unpalatable.
Maples are usually tapped between 30 to 40 years of age. Each tree can safely support between one and three taps and the average maple tree will produce between nine and thirteen gallons of sap per season. They can continue to be tapped until they are 100 years old. It takes forty gallons of sap boiled down to make just one gallon of syrup.
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 a sucre). Traditionally, the sap would be collected manually from the tree, boiled over an open fire or transported to the sugar house for boiling.
Today, technological advances include plastic bags instead of buckets to collect the sap, tractors or plastic tubing systems to transport sap from the sugarbush to the sugar house, and modern heating, evaporation, and filtration methods, although many small and hobby farmers still use traditional methods.
Canada makes over 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and the sugar maple’s leaf has come to symbolize the country, and is depicted on the national flag. The vast majority of Canada’s output comes from Quebec, the province is the world’s largest producer by far, with about 75 percent of world production. The provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island produce smaller amounts of maple syrup.
Vermont is the biggest U.S. producer, followed by Maine, New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachustts, and Connecticut. New York and Vermont have the sugar maple as their state tree and a scene of sap collection is depicted on the Vermont state quarter.
While the weather in Europe is not suitable for maple syrup production, it has been produced on a small scale in Japan and South Korea. In South Korea it is traditional to drink maple sap, called “gorosoe,” instead of processing it into syrup.
My dream trip would be to visit Quebec during maple syrup season. An article I’ve bookmarked from the Statesman includes suggestions for Quebec tourism year-round. I also found a great list of North American maple syrup festivals from a family road trips website. The festivals are in March or April, although the maple sap harvest can begin as early as February.
In some cities, particularly in Quebec, New England, and Ontario, people visit sugar houses and are served with maple-based products like maple taffee, tire sur la neige, and sugar on snow. Sugar on snow is a thickened hot maple syrup poured on fresh snow and is eaten off sticks.
In Quebec, it is tradition to visit the sugar shack in the spring, drink “caribou,” a mix of wine and alcohol. A meal, also called “sugar time feast” often includes pea soup, ham, an omelet, pork beans, the “oreilles de crisse” (salted back bacon), meat pie, and potatoes. Dessert is pancakes served with maple syrup.
Maple and the Environment
Sugarmakers recommend no more than three taps per tree to avoid damage. The biggest threat to the maple syrup industry — besides corn syrup — is recent global warming trends. Over the last 40 years, the maple sugaring season has moved earlier in the year, and is also getting shorter.
This warming trend has benefited the Canadian industry, along with subsidies from the Canadian government, improved technology, and a decline in New England family farms. According to Barrett Rock, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire, in the 1950s and 1960, 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup came from the U.S. and 20 percent came from Canada.
Maple for Health
Maple syrup also has some great health benefits — as if you needed reason beyond its delicious natural flavor. A quarter cup of maple syrup provides 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, 37 percent of riboflavin, 18 percent of zinc, seven percent of magnesium, and five percent of calcium and potassium.
Studies have shown that maple syrup can play a part in preventing diabetes, slowing the growth of cancer cells, increasing energy levels, and facilitating proper thyroid function and calcium absorption.
Update (1/28): My father, who would love any reason to eat maple syrup, forwarded these health claims to his childhood friend, Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill’s Office of Science & Society. As a sidebar, Joe and my dad used to play hockey together in Montreal when they were ten years old. Read here what he has to say about the claim that maple syrup fights cancer. He calls it “pure marketing hype” by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
My next and final maple syrup post will include a list of local Austin restaurants, along with information on the kinds of syrup they offer. I’m also wondering, what kind of syrup do you have in your fridge or pantry at home? Would you consider changing to maple? I’d love to hear from you!
- Reclaiming Maple: Why I’m passionate about maple syrup
- The Rise and Fall of Maple: history, other regional syrups, government regulation, grades, Vermont vs. McDonalds
- The Envelope Please….Introducing the Austin Maple Syrup Guide