Maple syrup 101 and sweet maple syrup recipes

Learn about the long-running Canadian tradition of sweet maple syrup in its various forms and put this year's harvest to use in our 4 new maple syrup recipes.

By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

Maple syrup: What it is and how it's made
Photography by June Anderson
What is maple syrup?
Long before the Europeans arrived in North America, the native peoples of Eastern Canada were collecting sap from maple trees and heating it in hollowed-out logs until it was syrupy. While the early settlers learned to make maple syrup, it wasn’t until the 19th century (with the advent of metal containers) that it became a significant industry. Today, reverse osmosis machines and various types of evaporators make production efficient.

Though all trees produce sap, maple trees produce greater quantities with sweeter taste. Only a few varieties (found in southeastern Canada and northeastern United States) have the high sugar content necessary for maple syrup. Sugar maple (acer saccharum) is the most commonly tapped species; black maple (acer nigrum), red maple (acer rubrum) and silver maple (acer saccharinum) are also tapped, but to a lesser extent.

How is maple syrup made?
With spring thaw, enzymes change the starch in maple trees to sugar, which mixes with water absorbed through the roots. This sap is only sweet enough to make maple syrup a few weeks a year. Sap needs frosty nights and warm sunny days in order to flow, so production is usually in February, March and April. As soon as the weather turns warm enough for buds to form, the sap turns bitter.

Maple sap contains about 97 per cent water, so it must be boiled to transform it into syrup, which has no more than 34 per cent water. Since sap doesn’t keep, it must be boiled the day it is collected. If it is not boiled long enough, mould will form. If boiled too much, it will crystallize.

Maple syrup facts:
• Canada produces about 85 per cent of the world’s supply of maple syrup. Quebec produces more than 90 per cent of the Canadian market, while Ontario and the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) each contribute about four per cent.

• During the sugaring season, the average tree yields 35 to 50 litres of sap, which produces one to 1.5 litres of maple syrup. On average, it takes 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup.

• Birch syrup, made from birch trees, is used the same way as maple syrup but is more difficult to make (and this is reflected in the price). On average, it takes 80 to 100 litres of sap to produce one litre of syrup (twice that needed for maple syrup).

Grades of maple syrup
Pure maple syrup must have a sugar content of at least 66 per cent, and no additives are allowed. To ensure you are getting real maple syrup, check the label: it must bear the name, grade and colour class of syrup and the name and address of the producer or packer.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors the safety and quality of maple syrup and is responsible for its classifications. There are three grades of maple syrup with five different classes of colour.

• Canada No. 1 is divided into three classes: extra light and light are light coloured and mild flavoured; medium is also light in colour but has a rich maple flavour. This is the most popular grade for table syrup.

• Canada No. 2 (amber) is usually made later in the sugaring season and has a dark, strong flavour. It is often considered a cooking grade, though some prefer its rich flavour as a table syrup.

• Canada No. 3
(dark) is made at the end of the season. It is very dark with strong, molasses-like flavour and is used commercially.

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover more maple syrup products, plus how to store this sweet syrup and four maple syrup recipes

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