Eighty percent of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada (take that, Vermont), so here are some great facts you might not know about our favourite pancake topping.
1. It takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup. Most trees only yield between 35 and 55 litres of sap in a season, so producing syrup is definitely a labour-intensive process. (But it’s totally worth it…)
2. A tree takes about 40 years before it’s big enough to tap. Maple syrup is a long-term investment.
3. Most sap harvesting is done with suction pumps, rather than spiles and buckets. Those old-fashioned sap buckets are just that—old fashioned. Tubes and suction pumps are much more efficient.
4. Only three of 13 species of maple trees native to Canada are used for syrup. Sugar maples are the big ones, but black maple and red maple are also tapped.
5. Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth don’t know what they’re talking about. That “maple flavoured” breakfast syrup is really corn syrup (plus a lot of other stuff). Sure, it’s cheap, but it doesn’t even come close to the real thing.
6. There are three federal categories of maple syrup. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the provincial governments have slightly different classification systems, both based on colour and taste. Category 1 (extra light, light, and medium grades) and Category 2, (an amber grade) have maple flavours that are “typical” for their colour grade. Category 3, which includes the dark grade and any other ungraded colours, also contains traces of caramel, plant bud or sap flavours. In Quebec, dark maple syrup can only be used for industrial purposes.
7. Quebec produces two-thirds of the world’s syrup. La Belle Province, indeed!
8. A quarter-cup of maple syrup is high in minerals. A 60 ml portion of maple syrup contains 100 percent of your recommended daily allowance of manganese, as well at 37 percent of riboflavin, 18 percent of zinc, 7 percent of magnesium, and 5 percent of calcium and potassium. Plus, the antioxidant levels are comparable to a banana or a serving of broccoli.
9. Running sap is all about physics. As sugar maples grow, they convert starch into sugar. This sugar mixes with water absorbed by the trees’ roots. When temperatures start to climb in the spring, the water-sugar mixture expands, forcing its way from the roots up through the tree.
10. The first written account of maple syrup production comes from 1606. Marc Lescarbot, a lawyer and writer in Acadia, describes the area’s indigenous peoples collecting “maple water” and “distilling” it to make syrup.
11. Stored properly, a sealed container of maple syrup can keep for several years. An unopened container of maple syrup can be kept at room temperature. It’s recommended that once a container is opened, it be refrigerated in a plastic or glass container, and will last between three to six months before running the risk of crystallization.
12. Maple syrup can grow mold. This is actually surprising, since maple syrup’s high sugar content pulls water out of cells and should reduce the opportunity for mold to grow. However, a xerophile mold—a species that grows in low water environments—called Wallemia sebi can bloom in a open container of maple syrup that’s stored at room temperature. Maple syrup producers say you can fish out the mold and heat the syrup to make it good to eat again, but you can also just go back to the supermarket and buy a fresh container.