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All About Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is only made in the North Eastern part of North America and is made solely from the concentration of maple sap from the maple tree. The species of a maple tree that is primarily used to produce maple syrup is the sugar maple or Acer saccharum, although there are many species that produce sap. In its raw form, maple sap fresh from the tree is usually around 2-3 percent sugar (sucrose, fructose and glucose) and the rest is pure water. This sap and the finished product, pure maple syrup, contains amino acids, proteins, organic acids and vitamins. The raw sap out of the tree is not maple syrup until it undergoes a cooking and concentration process which brings it up to or 66% sugar or 66 brix.


The Maple Season

Maple syrup is harvested in the spring during the months of March and April, although it varies depending on the season and the location. This early harvest is, in fact, the very first agricultural crop in North America. As the rough North American winter starts to release its grip in early spring, the vast sugar woods experience warm days and cool nights. The entire maple crop has to be harvested, processed and stored in this short period of time.

Maple Sap From the Maple Tree 

This swing in temperature forces the roots of maple trees to begin drawing water from the soil up into the trunk of the tree. As this groundwater travels up the trunk it collects the stored maple sugars which were produced the previous summer through photosynthesis. By boring a small hole into the trunk of the tree, maple syrup producers can collect the sap which has dissolved maple sugars in it. Only a very small hole is bored into the outer wood of the tree 2-5 cm deep. Traditionally a spiel was seated in the hole and a bucket was placed on the spiel. As the sap made its way up the trunk it would drip out the hole and land in the bucket. As time went on the bucket was replaced by food grade plastic tubing. If the maple producer is lucky the tubing system, using gravity alone can deposit the freshly collected maple sap right into the back of their sugar house. Many producers are not this lucky so a vacuum system is employed to pull the sap along the lines over flat sections or through dips and valleys in the sugar woods. Literally, thousands of trees are connected together with the use of this plastic tubing system.
Depending on the diameter of the tree, up to 3 taps can be placed in a single tree. However, the tree should be tapped in a new location every season and care is taken not to tap too close to the previous years' tap hole. The maple tree heals itself very quickly and the trees are in no way damaged or harmed during the collection of maple sap. Most sugarmakers employ comprehensive programs to ensure the health of their trees and their woodlots. Here in Nova Scotia, most producers follow a set of best management practices developed specifically for the sugar woods. Selective cutting and thinning take place in the sugar woods throughout the summer and fall to ensure the maple trees grow up as healthy as 
possible. Although maple stands or orchards are not fertilized in the traditional sense, some producers apply lime to the soil in order to correct the ph levels.


Storing Maple Syrup

Pure maple syrup is just that - pure. It contains absolutely no preservatives or additives. It is 100% natural and as a result, it has a shelf life. Like many other food products, once maple syrup is exposed to oxygen it will begin a natural chemical reaction which will slowly deteriorate the flavour, colour and overall texture. For many people, this is not a major issue as the shelf life of pure maple syrup is relatively long and for most households, demand outstrips supply. If you purchase pure maple syrup in bulk containers there are a few simple guidelines that can be followed to ensure this purely natural product retains its high quality for as long as possible.

If the syrup is not opened it is best stored in a cool dark area such as a closet or cupboard. When stored this way we recommend the syrup be used within six months if packaged in plastic and one year if packaged in glass. 

Once opened, the maple syrup should be refrigerated. If the container is 1L or greater it should be frozen. We recommend that a pitcher is kept in the fridge full of syrup for day-to-day use. The open container can then be easily stored in a deep freeze at a temperature of -18°C. Pure maple syrup will not freeze solid but it becomes very thick and it will expand so be sure that there is sufficient room in the open container to allow for expansion. Stored under these conditions we recommend the syrup be used within one year. Freezing the syrup slows the natural deterioration of the flavour, colour and overall quality. Before using their maple syrup most people prefer to heat the syrup they keep in the refrigerator.

Maple Syrup Health Benefits and Nutritional Information

Maple syrup isn't an empty calorie. Rather it is a natural, vegan sweetener that is packed with many health benefits. Granted, it is still a sugar, and like anything in life needs to be used in moderation, but as a sugar, it is a great alternative to refined sugars. Learn how to replace refined sugars with maple syrup.


Maple Syrup Grades

With no preservatives, additives, or chemicals, pure maple syrup is a wildcrafted natural product. If it says ‘pure’, the maple syrup you are using is 66.0 to 68.5 % sugar regardless of its colour or taste. The rule of thumb in the maple industry is that in the early spring when the temperatures are still cool, the sap which comes from the maple tree produces a lighter syrup with a slightly milder taste. As the season progresses and the temperatures increase, the sap begins a natural chemical transformation which makes the syrup darken and acquire a slightly stronger maple flavour. Despite this chemical transformation all colours and flavours of maple syrup contain the same amount of sugar and require the same boiling time.

Like most agricultural commodities in Canada, maple syrup has different grade distinctions. In Canada, the grades are Canada No. 1, 2 and 3. The grade of the syrup is determined primarily by the maple syrups colour class. These colour classes include extra light, light, medium, amber and dark. The colour class of maple syrup is determined by the amount of light that will pass through the syrup, also known as light transmission. The more light that passes through the maple syrup the higher the colour class will be.

So what does all this mean? Well, most people don't choose syrup because it looks good, they want it to taste good, making the real issue taste. Although lighter syrup is often coveted as higher quality because of its golden appearance, most people actually prefer the darker grades because of their more robust flavours. Most maple syrup that is made in any given year is Canada No. 1 Medium. But this is not always the case as crop yield and quality are completely dependant on the forces of nature.

Just remember this - the darker the syrup the bolder the flavour. If you like a really strong maple flavour then you would prefer the darker grades, medium and amber. If you like a syrup that is more middle of the road, try a lighter grade, light, or medium. If you enjoy pure maple syrup in your cooking or baking we recommend you use the darkest grade possible. This is because you will not require as much to have those great maple undertones in your cooking. The best choice for a table syrup is a medium grade pure maple syrup, not too strong and not too mild, just right.

At Acadian Maple, we source out the highest quality, premium pure maple syrup produced in the highlands of Nova Scotia. Being a wildcrafted product, pure maple syrup acquires tastes, flavours and aromas from the surrounding natural environment. During the spring melt, water runs over different rock and vegetation on its way to the tree roots and it acquires a host of varying tastes and flavours distinct to each individual sugaring operation.

Only establishments that are federally registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can apply a Canadian grade to pure maple syrup. Below is a table of the Canadian grades for pure maple syrup. Any syrup produced or packaged in a federally registered establishment must bear the correct grade, colour class and license number on any container for sale. If you look closely at any container of our pure maple syrup you will find the grade, colour class, license number and batch code.


This is a Spanish version of the basics on maple syrup:
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