With Maple Weekend coming up, we thought we’d do some digging on one of our favorite treats: Maple Syrup. It’s a Western New York tradition. Did you know…
1. Native Americans produced the first Maple Syrup, though we don’t know when.
It’s generally believed that Native Americans were the very first to collect the sap of maple trees to produce sugar and syrup. It’s not clear when this process started except that it was a common practice by the arrival of Europeans. Some tribes developed ceremonies around syrup making. The Iroquois for instance celebrated the arrival of the Sugar Moon–the first full moon of the spring–with a Maple Dance.
2. European settlers refined the process
Taught by the natives how to extract the natural sweetener, Europeans took and improved the sugar making process. Native Americans would generally cut “V” shaped incisions in a tree’s bark to drain sap; Europeans drilled holes. Because cane sugar had to be imported (therefore making it expensive), much of the early consumption by Europeans was focused on sweetening foods. When cane sugar became more wide available about the time of the Civil War, producers shifted focus on syrup making.
3. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of Maple Syrup
That’s a lot of sap! Consider this—each tree produces about 10-20 gallons of sap a year. So it takes around 4 trees to produce one gallon of syrup. A tree is not generally tapped until its 30 or 40 years old, but can continue to be tapped for decades.
4. The weather decides how long the sugaring season will last
The warm-days, cold-nights cycle of early spring is responsible for the rising of sap through the tree. As the weather warms, the tree’s biological senses kick in and the sap’s flavor changes (and not in a tasty way). This may be due to an increase of amino acids. So if the weather warms too quickly, the sugaring season is shortened. In 2015, the sugaring season lasted only 23 days in New York state. The season lasted 40 days in 2013.
5. To be called Maple Syrup in the U.S., it must be entirely Maple.
Laws in the United States prohibit maple syrup producers from adding ingredients or diluting maple syrup, otherwise it cannot be called maple syrup. Laws also prohibit imitation syrups—developed because of their significantly lower cost—from including maple in their names.
6. Most of the world’s Maple Syrup comes from Quebec
A full 75% of the world’s Maple Syrup comes from the Canadian province of Quebec. They produce over 6.5 million gallons a year. (Just think of all that sap, see #3.) Vermont is the largest producer in the United States, producing over 1 million gallons of syrup, or 5% of the global supply. New York makes the second most, producing about half of what Vermont does. Canada overtook the United States as the world’s largest producer of maple syrup in the 1930’s.
7. But Maple Syrup is big business in New York state
In 2015, New York produced its highest level of syrup in 70 years, thanks mostly to technological advances in tapping systems. It’s estimated that there are somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 maple syrup producers in the state. And there’s room to grow: Foresters believe that less than 5% of tappable trees are being used for production.