How Is Maple Syrup Made?

Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. In the early spring, if you cut the bark of (or drill a hole into) certain species of maple trees, clear sap will leak from the cut. This sap is very thin -- almost like water -- but it contains about 2-percent sugar (sucrose). If you boil this watery sap to drive off the water, you eventually get maple syrup. It takes 30 or 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple pancake syrup. One tree might yield 10 gallons (38 liters) of sap over the course of four weeks.

The sugar or rock maple (Acer saccharum) and the black maple (Acer nigrum) are the two trees that yield the best syrup. Sometimes people also tap the red maple.

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Before 1940, people collected the sap in buckets by drilling a hole into the tree and pounding in a wooden tube for the bucket to hang from. Today, most commercial operations use plastic taps and plastic tubing so the sap can flow to a central location. The sap is evaporated in large, flat pans that are heated with wood, gas or electricity.

States and provinces that produce maple syrup include Quebec and Ontario in Canada and Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin in the United States. The best days for sap collection are days where the temperature is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night prior to bud formation.

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Originally Published: Apr 1, 2000

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Maple Syrup FAQ

How do you make maple syrup?
Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. That sap, which already contains sugar, is boiled until the water content is reduced and it thickens.
Is maple syrup better for you than sugar?
Maple syrup contains sugar, so the two have a similar base and similar effect on your diet and health.
Which is healthier maple syrup or honey?
Maple syrup and honey are similar when it comes to their glycemic index, which sweetener you choose depends on your health goals. If you're looking to reduce your calorie and sugar intake, maple syrup is the better choice. But if your goal is to get more vitamins and cut back on fat, honey is the way to go.
Can you substitute maple syrup for honey?
Maple syrup isn't the same viscosity or flavor profile as honey, so it often doesn't make a good substitute — especially when you need just the right balance for baking. You can replace it in a pinch, though. To substitute maple syrup for honey, use 3/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/2 cup sugar for every 1 cup of honey.
Why is maple syrup a symbol of Canada?
Canada is home to a large maple syrup industry, and a lot of maple syrup comes from Canada. That's why the country is so closely tied to this food product.