What is maple syrup? Apart from it being everyone’s favorite thing with which to top a fat stack of pancakes, maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. But how is it made from sap, exactly? And do all maple trees produce sap that can be used for syrup? Also, what in the heck is pure versus “grade B” maple syrup?? Well, get ready, because I’ve been tapped to answer all your maple syrup-related questions.
How do we get maple syrup?
The process of making maple syrup begins with drilling a hole into, or tapping, a mature maple tree. In most cases, a spout and bucket are attached to the tree and, over a four- to six-week period, the tree may yield up to ten gallons of sap. While this may sound like a lot, ten gallons only amounts to about a quart of syrup. Following the collection process, the sap makes its way to the processing plant, often referred to as a “sugarhouse.” There, workers run the sap through an evaporator, which boils the sap and removes about 65 percent of its original water content. As water evaporates from the sap, it becomes substantially sweeter. From this point, workers are able to determine, based on density, if the pure syrup is ready.
So, is all maple syrup the same?
No! There is a lot of variation in the world of maple syrup, even in terms of viscosity, as the Sporked team learned during their maple syrup taste test. While there are lots of different maple trees that you can get sap from, certain types, such as sugar and red maple trees, are prioritized because of their higher sap yield, and, in the case of the former, higher sugar content. The higher the sugar content, the less water needs to be boiled away in the evaporator.
What’s the deal with maple syrup grades?
Typically, maple syrup is graded based on its color (light to dark) and the intensity of its maple flavor (from delicate to strong). To simplify maple syrup grades, the grading system changed in 2015, eliminating grade B altogether. This allows maple syrup manufacturers to be on the same page in terms of terminology, both nationwide and internationally. There are now four categories, all grade A, under which maple syrup is categorized: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. The “Very Dark” category is home to the commercial-grade syrups available at most grocery stores here in the U.S. And, hey, next time someone asks you a question about maple syrup, you’ll make the grade, too.