Syrup Production

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
From colonial times to the 20th century, sugar producers collected the sap by punching a small hole in the maple tree, inserting a wooden or metal spout into the cambium, and hanging a bucket into which the sap dripped. This picturesque collection method has mostly given way to systems of plastic taps and tubing, which carry the sap from many trees to a central holding tank. Over a six-week season, the taps remove around 10% of a tree’s sugar stores, in an average of 5 to 15 gallons/20–60 liters per tree (some give as much as 80 gallons). It takes around 40 parts of sap to make 1 part syrup. The sap contains around 3% sucrose at the beginning of the season, half that at the end; so late-season sap must be boiled longer and is therefore darker and stronger-flavored. Today, many producers use energy-efficient reverse osmosis devices to remove about 75% of the sap water without heat, then boil the concentrated sap to develop its flavor and obtain the desired sugar concentration. They aim for a temperature around 7°F/4°C above the boiling point of water, the equivalent of a syrup that’s around 65% sugars.