What is Maple Syrup?
Maple syrup is simply the
concentrated sap of the maple tree. This sap, which only 2-3% sugar, is collected and
concentrated, usually through boiling, until the sugar content reaches
66%. Once the sugar level reaches this critical concentration, it is considered maple
syrup, and is bottled and sold. The percentage of sugar is indeed crucial though. If the
percentage of sugar in the syrup is too high, the syrup will crystallize in the bottle,
and be no good. If the percentage is too low, the syrup will spoil. These things can
happen if the concentration is off by as little as 1 or 2 percent.
So how do you know when it is at
There are two main ways maple syrup
producers use to tell when the syrup has reaches this critical concentration.
The first method, commonly used by small
scale producers is based on the idea that as the concentration of sugar (or and solute for
that matter) increases, the boiling point of the water increases. Simply put, the higher
the percentage of sugar in the syrup, the hotter the syrup must be before it will boil.
Finished syrup boils at between 7.1-7.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of
water. Since the boiling point of water varies with altitude and barometric pressure, we
can not say that finished syrup boils at 219.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, each time you
wish to finish off a batch of syrup, you must boil some water and measure it's
temperature. Then add 7.1 degrees to that, and when the syrup reaches that temperature it
is done. By the way, no matter how hot the fire or stove is under a pan of boiling water
or syrup, the temperature will never go above the boiling point. You must, however, keep a
very close eye on syrup as it reaches the 66% mark, it will foam up and boil over in a
matter of seconds if the temperature is too high.
The second method, more commonly used by
larger producers is to use a special piece of equipment called a hydrometer. The
hydrometer is a sealed glass tube with a small amount of weight in one end. There is a
series of lines running the length of the tube which are used to measure percentage
concentration, and are specially calibrated for maple syrup. When the syrup is almost
done, a sample of the hot syrup is placed in a special cylinder shaped cup, and the
hydrometer is placed in it. The hydrometer will only sink part way into the syrup, and by
looking at which line on the tube is at the same level as the top of the syrup, you can
determine what the percentage of sugar is in the syrup. This process is repeated
frequently as the syrup approaches the 66% mark, and when the hydrometer reaches 66%, the
syrup is drawn off through a valve and bottled.
is in maple syrup?
Maple syrup is the concentrated sap of
the maple tree, so the question should be "What is in maple sap?" The sap is
made up primarily of water, almost 98% water. The remaining 2-3% is sugars made by the
tree. These are mostly in the form of standard sucrose, the same chemical compound found
in cane sugar. There are, however, numerous minute traces of other important minerals in
the sap. Once concentrated into syrup, these minerals actually make maple syrup better for
you than white cane sugar, not to mention it is against federal regulations to add
anything to maple syrup at any point in its collection, concentration or bottling, making
it truly 100% all natural.
all syrup is the same, what does Grade A mean?
According to federal laws, syrup that is
going to be sold must be bottled and graded according to federal guidelines. The grades
and colors of syrup are more than just industry standards, they are determined through a
standard set of sample bottles which the government regulates. In Massachusetts there are
2 grades of maple syrup used, Grade A and Grade B. The grade is determined entirely by the
light transmissibility of the syrup. Both grades contain identical concentrations of
sugar, and have the same laws governing them. Grade A is the lightest, and is what most
people buy for their pancakes or hot cereal. Grade B is a little darker, stronger tasting
and is normally considered the cooking grade.
Within Grade A are colors: light amber,
medium amber and dark amber. Again, the color is strictly a measure of how well light
shows through the syrup, or how dark it is. Light Amber is considered the
"Fancy Grade" and has a milder maple taste. It is usually used for fine maple
candy. Medium Amber is a fine table syrup. It has a little more maple flavor and is asked
for by a majority of people. Dark Amber is slightly darker and stronger still. It is fast
becoming a popular table syrup.
The color and grade of the syrup is
influenced by many factors, ranging from how severe the winter was to the bacteria levels
in the soil when the sap was collected to even how many times the syrup was allowed to
cool and then reheated during processing.
Any differences you may hear of or taste
from one persons syrup to another is probably due to the way in which the sap was boiled
or even the containers it was stored in.
Everyone likes to complain about the high
prices of maple syrup today, and how the price of a gallon of syrup has skyrocketed in the
past few years. To be perfectly honest, the price of maple syrup has actually stayed
almost exactly the same for the past century (if you remember to think about inflation).
The general rule of thumb is a gallon of syrup should cost about the same as a days wages
for farm help. In the 1890's, the average wages for a day's labor were about $1. Maple
syrup, in the 1890's cost about $1 per gallon. In the 1930's, a day's wages were up to
between $2 and $3, with a gallon of maple syrup the same.
Today, most farm help makes about $5 per
hour. Considering an 8 hour day, you can figure a day's wages to be $40. How much is maple
syrup now? It ranges anywhere from $35-$40 per gallon, right where it should be according
to the age old rule.
Why does it have to cost so much
If you have read through these pages about
maple syrup, you should have an idea how much work goes into the production of one gallon
of maple syrup. There is the expense in the man power needed to tap the trees, the
equipment hung on the trees (which has a very high maintenance cost) and the expense of
gathering, both in additional equipment, gas and man power. And that only gets the sap to
the sap house. Once at the sap house, there is the expense of the wood of fuel used to
boil off the 39 gallons of water needed to produce that one gallon of syrup, and the
equipment used to do it. Then there is the man that watches the syrup. Everything
considered, the price of a gallon of maple syrup is really quite reasonable.
One tablespoon contains:
50 calories (about the same as white cane
35mg of potassium,
21mg of calcium,
less than 2mg of sodium and
traces of iron, phosphorous and several
& Updates ]
[ Legend of Maple Syrup
[ Maple Facts
[ What Makes Maple Syrup
[ Cooking with Maple Syrup
[ Maple Links