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Maple syrup, also known in Canada as liquid gold, is a truly special product. Created from the sweet sap of the maple tree, the leaf even emblazons the Canadian flag – but there’s much more to it than a breakfast ingredient to pour on your pancakes. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Canada’s favorite sweetener.
Though Canada is popularly known as the home of maple syrup, most of the natural product actually comes from a specific part of the country: Quebec. Today, the French-speaking province supplies roughly two-third’s of the world’s maple syrup.
Though its sweet, rich flavor might make you think otherwise, maple syrup boasts plenty of health benefits. The syrup is filled with antioxidants as well as healthy minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium.
The cost of pure maple syrup makes a bit more sense when you realize that it takes roughly 40 gallons (150 liters) of maple tree sap to produce a single gallon (3.8 liters) of syrup.
In 2011 and 2012, the maple syrup market was disrupted by the “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist.” Nearly 3,000 tons of maple syrup valued at roughly CAD$18 million (£10.4m) were stolen from Quebec suppliers.
Maple syrup was invented by the Iroquois people, who are indigenous to northeastern America. They pioneered the tapping technology that drew sap from the maple tree, as well as processing techniques for transforming it into syrup and sugar crystals.
Like many agricultural crops, maple farming is very weather-dependent. Producers typically start tapping trees in early spring, when the trees and their sap begin to thaw. In a good year, the sugaring season will last between four and six weeks.
Maple syrup is categorized into different grades, which are determined based on the color and light transmission of the product. These factors are influenced by the time of season the sap is collected, not by how the maple syrup is processed.
Due to rationing during the Second World War, Canadians were encouraged to sweeten their food with maple syrup instead of sugar. The country’s department of agriculture even released a collection of special wartime recipes that used maple syrup in lieu of processed sugar.
While many picture maple sap being gathered by pails and spiles, this tradition is largely outdated, and most industrial maple tree farms rely on more sophisticated systems using suction pumps and tubes. This has been the primary maple sap-gathering method since the 1970s.
Maple syrup is most traditionally used as a pancake or crepe topper, but the ingredient is exceptionally versatile. Use maple syrup in marinades, vinaigrettes, baking and even cocktails for an indulgent, natural sweetener.
A single maple tree is capable of producing anywhere between 5 to 15 gallons (19 to 57 liters) of sap per season. This wide margin is dependent on a few factors, including weather, tree age and health. A healthy maple tree can produce sap for generations.