The mechanics of maple sugaring call for creating a tap hole in a sugar maple (Acer saccharum
), inserting a draining port (e.g., spile), collecting the 2-4% sugar-concentrated sap drips, and evaporating 39 gallons of water for every 40 gallons of collected sap. Various cultures have been perfecting this syrup-procuring method for centuries. Maple syrup can even be distilled further into maple sugar, a crystallized tasty treat. Maple sugar was the American Indians’ only sweetener prior to honeybee introduction in the 1600s, and until the mid-1800s, maple sugar was the most common sweetener. It was even cheaper than cane sugar! In 1860, the U.S. produced 40,000,000 pounds of maple sugar, but this number dwindled as a production of only 341,000 pounds is reported by 1950. Today, worldwide maple syrup production is championed by the Canadian province of Quebec. Vermont is the chief U.S. producer, with 1,320,000 gallons during the 2014 season. Ohio ranks a mighty producer in the U.S., but still only manufactured 4 percent of the total U.S. production in 2014.
|A visual appraisal of 2014 United States maple production shows Vermont, New York, and Maine as dominant suppliers. [Data provided by the National Agriculture Statistics Service via the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PDF)] |
What about the tree’s internal mechanisms driving this predictable process? Sinzibukwud is an American Indian word for “drawn from the wood.” The methodological origins of maple sugaring are unknown, though written accounts in North America begin in the 1500s. One thing is telling, the word sinzibukwud. Is the sap really drawn
from the wood though? Here are the physics behind sap, syrup, and that sweet taste.
|Turning a tree’s sap into syrup begs precision. Pictured here, the almost final product is drained from the evaporator after it traveled the maze of heated compartments. |
In early spring, usually during the February and March months, daytime temperatures reach above freezing, while evening temperatures drop back below freezing. It’s this fluctuation in temperature that initiates circulation of sap within the tree and drives it out of wounds and tap holes. Sap carries water and other nutrients through the transport tissue (xylem) within a tree. The positive pressure created during the night-to-day temperature change squeezes out the sap. Different species of trees carry sap with different concentrations of sugar. This is why we target the sugar maple tree, as its sap holds some of the highest sugar concentrations. A high sugar concentration not only means less effort in evaporating, but a sweeter taste. Once a sugar (sucrose) concentration of 66.6% is reached, a tablespoon of pure maple syrup can pack 50 calories! You should feel at ease though, because all-natural maple syrup contains good minerals and lacks corn syrup.