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Maple Syrup

Maple SyrupMaple syrup is a syrup made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. In cold climate areas, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water. Quebec, Canada, produces most of the world's supply of maple syrup.

Maple syrup was first collected and used by Native Americans and First Nations, and was later adopted by European settlers. It is most often eaten with waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, crumpets, and French toast. It is also used as an ingredient in baking, or as a sweetener and flavoring agent. Sucrose is the most prevalent sugar in maple syrup.

Maple syrup is graded according to the Canada, US or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. Syrups must be at least 66 percent sugar to qualify as "maple syrup" in Canada; in the US, any syrup not made almost entirely from maple sap cannot be labeled as "maple". Maple syrup and the sugar maple tree are symbols of Canada and several US states, particularly Vermont.

American Indians

Aboriginal peoples living in the northeastern part of North America were the first people known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar.  According to their oral traditions, as well as archaeological evidence, maple tree sap, which they called "sweet water", was being processed for its sugar content long before Europeans arrived in the region.  There are no authenticated accounts of maple syrup production and consumption among early aboriginal groups.

The Algonquins recognized the sap as a source of energy and nutrition. At the beginning of the spring thaw, they used stone tools to make V-shaped incisions in tree trunks; they then inserted reeds or concave pieces of bark to run the sap into buckets, which were often made from birch bark.  The maple sap was concentrated either by dropping hot cooking stones into the buckets, or by leaving them exposed to the cold temperatures overnight and disposing of the layer of ice which formed on top.  Production of maple syrup is one of only a few agricultural processes in North America that is not a European colonial import.

In the early stages of European colonization in north-eastern North America, native peoples showed the arriving colonists how to tap the trunks of certain types of maples during the early-spring thaw to harvest the sap.  By 1680, European settlers and fur traders were involved in harvesting maple products.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, processed maple sap was a source of concentrated sugar, in both liquid and crystallized-solid form.

Typically, maple sugaring parties began to operate at the start of the spring thaw in regions of woodland known to contain sufficiently large numbers of maples.  They first bored holes in the trunks of the maples, usually more than one hole per large tree, inserted home-made wooden spouts into the holes, and then hung a wooden bucket from the protruding end of each spout to collect the sap.  The buckets were commonly made by cutting cylindrical segments from a large tree-trunk and then hollowing out each segment's core from one end of the cylinder, creating a seamless watertight container.  Sap slowly filled the buckets; members of the sugaring party periodically returned to retrieve the sap that had accumulated.

It was then either transferred to larger holding vessels (barrels, large pots, or hollowed-out wooden logs), often mounted on sledges or wagons pulled by draft animals, or it was carried in buckets or other convenient containers.  The sap-collection buckets were returned to the spouts mounted on the trees, and the process was repeated for as long as the flow of sap remained "sweet".  The specific weather conditions of the thaw period were, and still are, critical in determining the length of the "sugaring" season.  As the weather continues to warm, a maple tree's normal early spring biological process eventually alters the taste of the sap, making it unpalatable.

The boiling process was time-consuming.  The harvested sap was transported back to the party's base camp, where it was then poured into large, usually metal vessels and boiled to achieve the desired consistency.  The sap was usually processed at a central collection point, either over a fire built out in the open or inside a shelter built for that purpose.  To protect themselves from the weather, sugaring parties built a small camp. By the 1850s, the "sugar shack" or "sugarhouse", the outdoor shack or building used to boil down the sap, had developed.  The sap was transported using large barrels pulled by horses or oxen and brought to the sugar shack for processing.

Production methods have been streamlined since colonial days, yet remain basically the same. Sap must first be collected and boiled down carefully to obtain pure syrup without chemical agents or preservatives. Maple syrup was made by boiling between 5.3 to 13 gallons of sap (depending on its concentration) over an open fire until one quart of syrup was obtained. Around the time of the American Civil War, syrup makers started using a large flat sheet metal pan as it was more efficient for boiling than a heavy rounded iron kettle, which let much of the heated air slide past. Around this time, cane sugar replaced maple sugar as the dominant sweetener in the US; as a result, producers focused their marketing efforts on maple syrup.

The first evaporator, used to heat and concentrate sap, was patented in 1858. In 1872 an evaporator was developed that featured two pans and a metal arch or firebox, which greatly decreased boiling time. Around 1900, producers bent the tin that formed the bottom of a pan into a series of flues which increased the heated surface area of the pan and again decreased boiling time. Some producers also added a finishing pan, a separate batch evaporator, as a final stage in the evaporation process.

In the early 20th century, buckets began to be replaced with plastic bags, which allowed people to see at a distance how much sap had been collected. Syrup producers also began using tractors to haul vats of sap from the sugarbush to the evaporator. Some producers adopted motor-powered tappers and metal tubing systems to convey sap from the tree to a central collection container, but these techniques were not widely used. Heating methods also diversified: modern producers use wood, oil, natural gas, propane, or steam to evaporate sap. Modern filtration methods were perfected to prevent contamination of the syrup.

During the 1970s, a large number of technological changes took place. Plastic tubing systems which had been experimented with since the early part of the century were perfected, and the sap came directly from the tree to the evaporator house. Vacuum pumps were added to the tubing systems. Pre-heaters were developed to recycle heat lost in the steam. Reverse-osmosis machines were developed to take a portion of water out of the sap before it was boiled.

Improvements in tubing, use of vacuum, new filtering techniques, "supercharged" preheaters, and better storage containers have since been developed. Research continues on pest control and improved woodlot management. In 2009, researchers at the University of Vermont unveiled a new type of tap which prevents backflow of sap into the tree, reducing bacterial contamination and preventing the tree from attempting to heal the bore hole.

Cultural significance
Maple syrup and maple sugar were used during the American Civil War and by abolitionists in the years prior to the war because most cane sugar and molasses was produced by Southern slaves.  During food rationing in World War II, people in the northeastern United States were encouraged to stretch their sugar rations by sweetening foods with maple syrup and maple sugar, and recipe books were printed to help housewives employ this alternate source.

The sugar maple's leaf has come to symbolize Canada, and is depicted on the country's flag.  Several US states, including New York and Vermont, have the sugar maple as their state tree.  A scene of sap collection is depicted on the Vermont state quarter.

Cultural significance
Maple syrup and maple sugar were used during the American Civil War and by abolitionists in the years prior to the war because most cane sugar and molasses was produced by Southern slaves. During food rationing in World War II, people in the northeastern United States were encouraged to stretch their sugar rations by sweetening foods with maple syrup and maple sugar, and recipe books were printed to help housewives employ this alternate source.

The sugar maple's leaf has come to symbolize Canada, and is depicted on the country's flag. Several US states, including New York and Vermont, have the sugar maple as their state tree. A scene of sap collection is depicted on the Vermont state quarter.

Maple syrup production is centered in northeastern North America; however, given the correct weather conditions, it can be made wherever maple trees grow. Usually, the maple species used are the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), the red maple (Acer rubrum) and the black maple (Acer nigrum), because of the high sugar content in the sap � roughly two to five percent. Red maple has a shorter season because it buds earlier than sugar and black maples, altering the flavor of the sap. Silver maples and other maple species are occasionally also tapped. A maple syrup production farm is called a "sugar bush" or "sugarwood". Sap is often boiled in a "sugar house" (also known as a "sugar shack" or cabane � sucre), a building which is louvered at the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.

Maples are usually tapped beginning between 30 and 40 years of age.  Each tree can support between one and three taps, depending on its trunk diameter.  The average maple tree will produce between 9.2 to 13 US gal. of sap per season, up to 3.2 US gal. per day. This is roughly equal to 7 percent of its total sap. Seasons last for four to eight weeks, depending on the weather. During the day, starch stored in the roots for the winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing it to be tapped. Sap is not tapped at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.

Canada makes more than 80 percent of the world's maple syrup, producing about 7,000,000 US gal. in 2004. The vast majority of this comes from Quebec: the province is the world's largest producer, with about 75 percent of the world production totaling 6,510,000 US gal. in 2005. Production in Quebec is controlled through a supply-management system, with producers receiving quota allotments from the F�d�ration des producteurs ac�ricoles du Qu�bec, which also maintains reserves of syrup. Canada exports more than 64,000,000 lb. of maple syrup per year, valuing over C$145 million.

The provinces of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island produce smaller amounts of syrup. The province of Manitoba produces maple syrup using the sap of the Manitoba maple tree (Acer negundo or "box-elder"). Manitoba maple syrup has a slightly different flavor than sugar-maple syrup; because it contains less sugar and the sap flows more slowly, the Manitoba maple tree's yield is usually less than half that of a similar-sized maple tree.

Vermont is the biggest US producer, with 920,000 US gal in 2009, followed by Maine with 400,000 US gal. and New York with 360,000 US gal. Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all produced marketable quantities of maple syrup of less than 120,000 US gal. each in 2009.

Maple syrup has been produced on a small scale in some other countries, notably Japan and South Korea. However, in South Korea in particular it is traditional to consume maple sap, which they call "gorosoe", instead of processing it into syrup.

Sometimes off-flavors are found in maple syrup, from a variety of causes. These include contaminants in the boiling apparatus, such as paint or cleanser; changes in the sap, such as fermentation when it has been left sitting too long; and changes in the tree, such as "buddy sap" late in the season when budding has begun. In some circumstances it is possible to remove off-flavor through processing.

In Canada, there are three grades containing several color classes, ranging from Canada #1, including Extra Light (sometimes known as AA), Light (A), and Medium (B); through #2 Amber (C); and finally #3 Dark (D). In addition, Canada #2 Amber may be labeled Ontario Amber for farm sales in that province only. A typical year's yield will be about 25 to 30 percent of each of the #1 colors, 10 percent #2 Amber, and 2 percent #3 Dark.

The United States uses somewhat different grading standards. Maple syrup is divided into two major grades: Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is further broken down into three sub-grades: Light Amber (sometimes known as Fancy), Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. Grade B is darker than Grade A Dark Amber. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets uses a similar grading system of color and is roughly equivalent, especially for lighter syrups. The Vermont grading system differs from the US system in maintaining a slightly higher standard of product density. New Hampshire maintains a similar standard, but not a separate grading scale. The Vermont graded product has 0.9 percent more sugar and less water in its composition. A non-table grade of syrup called commercial, or Grade C, is also produced under the Vermont system.

Typically #1 Extra Light and Grade A has a milder flavor than #3 or Grade B, which is very dark with a sharp maple flavor. The dark grades of syrup are primarily used for cooking and baking. The classification of maple syrup in the US ultimately depends on its translucence. US Grade A "Light Amber" has to be more than 75 percent translucent, US Grade A "Medium Amber" has to be 60.5 to 74.9 percent translucent, US Grade A "Dark Amber" has to be 44 to 60.4 percent translucent, and US Grade B "Commercial" has to be less than 43.9 percent translucent.

Food and nutrition
Maple syrup consists primarily of sucrose and water, with only small amounts of other sugars such as fructose and glucose. Organic acids, most notably malic acid, make the syrup slightly acidic. Maple syrup has a relatively low mineral content. Potassium and calcium make up most of this mineral content, but maple syrup also contains nutritionally significant amounts of zinc and manganese. Maple syrup contains trace amounts of amino acids, which may contribute to the "buddy" flavor of syrup produced late in the season, as the amino acid content of sap increases at this time. Additionally, maple syrup contains a wide variety of volatile organic compounds, including vanillin, hydroxybutanone, and propionaldehyde. It is not yet known exactly which compounds are primarily responsible for maple syrup's flavor.

Maple syrup is similar to sugar calorie-wise, but is a source of manganese, with 13.33 grams (0.470 oz) containing about 0.44 milligrams or 22 percent of the FDA Daily Value (DV%) of 2 milligrams. It is also a source of zinc with 13.33 grams containing 0.55 milligrams or 3.7 percent of the FDA Daily Value (DV%) of 15 milligrams. Compared to honey, maple syrup has 15 times more calcium and 1/10 as much sodium.

British culinary expert Delia Smith described maple syrup as "a unique ingredient, smooth and silky textured, with a sweet, distinctive flavor - hints of caramel with overtones of toffee will not do - and a rare color, amber set alight. Maple flavor is, well, maple flavor, uniquely different from any other."  Maple syrup and its artificial imitations are used as toppings for pancakes, waffles, and French toast in North America.  Maple syrup can also be used to flavor a variety of foods, including: biscuits, fritters, ice cream, hot cereal, and fresh fruit. It is also used as sweetener for applesauce, baked beans, candied sweet potatoes, winter squash, cakes, pies, breads, fudge and other candy, milkshakes, tea, coffee, and hot toddies. Maple syrup can also be used as a replacement for honey in wine (mead).

Imitation maple syrup
In the United States, "maple syrup" must be made almost entirely from maple sap; small amounts of substances such as salt may be added. "Maple-flavored" syrups contain maple, but also other less expensive ingredients.  "Pancake syrup", "waffle syrup", "table syrup", and similarly named syrups are substitutes, which are less expensive than maple syrup. In these syrups, the primary ingredient is most often high fructose corn syrup flavored with sotolon; they have no genuine maple content, and are usually thickened far beyond the viscosity of maple syrup. The fenugreek seed, a spice with high amounts of sotolon, can be prepared to have a maple syrup-like flavor, and is used to make a very strong commercial flavoring that is similar to maple syrup, but much less expensive.

American labeling laws prohibit imitation syrups from having "maple" in their names. In Canada, syrup must have a density of 66-degrees on the Brix scale (a hydrometric scale used to measure sugar solutions) to be marketed as maple syrup. Quebecois sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau ("pole syrup"), a joke referring to the syrup as having been made by tapping telephone poles.

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