Learn About Making Maple Syrup

sugar maples are tapped and pails collect maple sap
Sugar Maples are tapped and pails collect Maple Sap

Do you want to know more about making maple syrup?
We certainly did.

This is what we discovered during a trip to our local sugar shack.

a sugar shack in a snowy quebec forest
A sugar shack in a snowy quebec forest

Maple syrup production starts with a maple tree. But not just any maple tree.

 a sugar maple during summer

Great tasting maple syrup originates from the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum).

This is a particular species of maple which is common to our region of Canada. Here is a photo of one during a Canadian summer.

The sugar maple forest

a map displaying the sugar maple forests of north america

The green regions on this map identify the sugar maple forests.

As you can see, there are more sugar maples in the United States than in Canada.

Despite this fact, Canada still leads the world with over 80% of total maple syrup production

The vast majority of maple syrup production is located near our home in Montreal, Canada.

As it turns out, the mere presence of sugar maples will not guarantee you maple syrup.

Making maple syrup is reliant on temperature.

It can only occur when temperatures fluctuate from below to above freezing.

Making maple syrup is a seasonal business here in Canada. The season begins during the spring thaw in mid-March and generally lasts through mid-April.

For a maple tree to produce in springtime, it is essential that the temperature be below freezing during the night and above freezing during the day.

During the overnight hours when temperatures dip below freezing, the roots of the maple tree will begin to absorb water from the soil.

When temperatures warm up during the day a stem pressure develops, and sap begins to flow out of the trees' tap holes.

Maple sap versus Maple syrup

Do not confuse maple sap with maple syrup.

Unlike the final product, the sap is only very slightly sweet. It's colorless too. The much thicker and sweeter syrup is the result of a lot of boiling.

Let's put this into perspective.

A good maple tree will produce between 60 to 75 litres of sap during one spring season. This is boiled down to create a much more condensed 2 to 3 litres of pure maple syrup.

Why is the sap sweet, and why does it run?

Botanists have this theory about maple sap.

To survive the long and cold Canadian winters, the tree must protect itself. Each fall, it produces a sugary starch or "anti-freeze" to protect its vast network of roots. It then goes into hibernation.

an animation that demonstrates the flow of maple sap

When spring arrives and the snow melts, the roots resume their normal role of absorbing water.

The sugary starch, created during the previous fall, is "pumped out of the root system". It is circulated as 'sugar water' throughout the tree in preparation for the summer growing season.

This sweet sap circulates or "runs" after the first spring thaw. It continues until the buds transform into leaves sometime between mid-March and mid-April.

Maple Syrup Production

close up of a drop of maple sap falling into a bucket

The first step in making maple syrup begins with the collection of the sap.

The traditional method for collecting this sweet sap involves cutting a small hole in the tree then collecting the sap with a bucket.

The process of making maple syrup with a bucket still occurs today. However it has been largely replaced by a more efficient collection system.

Read more about maple syrup production here.

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