Food connoisseurs cherish the taste of maple syrup that amber coloured, sweet, unctuous liquid of maple sap boiled down. You can use on ice cream, crepes, pancakes, mix with plain yoghurt, flavour parfaits, and liqueurs, or process it to maple sugar, or candy, or fudge. Long before European settlers set food on the eastern shores of North America First Nations were extracting the sap of maple trees from February to March by drilling holes into mature (25 cm diameter) trees and inserting a collection spout. Some trees yielded up to 38 – 45 litres (10 – 12 gallons) of sap with a sugar concentration of tow percent. It takes 100 litres of sap to produce two litres of maple syrup.
Notices had carved round and deep bowls into mature tree trunks. These “bowls” were filled with the sap into which hot stones were placed to achieve evaporation. Settlers’ introduced iron kettles, which facilitated boiling down. Today boiling occurs in vacuum boilers to speed the process.
Maple trees grow along the Atlantic Coasty of North America from Nova Scotia to Florida, and Illinois to the west. Maple sugar trees (sugar or black, silver and red maples) thrive in Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. Quebec is the largest maple syrup producer in Canada. The tree starts producing three years after planting much like the grape vine. Yields differ according to climatic conditions and the age of the tree.
Today the sap collection occurs in semi-automatic systems. After taping each tree and inserting the collection spout, several trees are connected by means of food-grade plastic tubes to collection vessels. This facilitates collection and reduces cost.
Maple syrup consists of 90 percent sucrose, and 10 percent glucose and fructose, trace minerals and few vitamins. At one time, it represented 12 percent of the caloric intake of First Nations but now it is a luxury item few can afford.
100 grams of maple syrup contains 252 calories; corn syrup 295; honey 304 and molasses 252.
Maple syrup is a delicately flavoured sweetener and must not be compared or confused with artificial maple syrup, which has nothing to do with the original product. Understandably, pure maple syrup is expensive and available only in high-end grocery stores and/or specialty shops.