Springtime brings warm days and cool nights. The mix of warm daytime temperatures and below freezing temperatures at night is the perfect weather for sap to start running. Maple trees (sugar, red, and black being the most popular, though there are several others in the family) are tapped for their delicious interior. If done correctly, trees can be tapped safely year after year to collect sap. This sweet, watery liquid is be collected and boiled down to make maple syrup. The typical harvest season lasts for a short time, about 4-6 weeks.
Up until a few years ago, it was always thought that the sap came from the top of the tree, given that it was flowing down the tree and out spouts for tapping. However, back in 2013, two scientists from the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center realized through observation that the sap was actually groundwater being drawn up into the tree. Maple sap contains nutrients that are brought up to the top of the tree to grow buds. Once the buds start developing, the sap starts taking on a different, less pleasant taste, which is why the season tends to be so short. Because of the short season, scientists were excited to discover sap was being drawn up because that means younger trees can be tapped, and even grown in a plantation setting in order to boost production.
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The sap must be boiled down to reach a certain density and sugar concentration in ordered to be considered syrup. Depending on the operation size and location, this can be done over a wood fire, large oven-like operation, or it can go through a process of reverse osmosis to remove a large portion of the water so the sap doesn’t need to be boiled as long.
This rich, woodsy treat is something most of us know and love, whether it’s put on pancakes, waffles, cereal, eggs, or even ice cream! Not only is maple syrup popular on sweet treats, but it can even be used in recipes for savory foods, like a glaze for steaks or to add flavor to homemade bread.
“Maple Syrup Production for the Beginner.” PennState Extension
Sorkin, Laura. “Maple Syrup Revolution: A New Discovery Could Change Business Forever.” Modern Farmer