Sugaring Off – How They Make Maple Syrup

September 2, 2012

in General Interest

Maple syrup, that yummy brown nectar, is the product of collecting gallons of slightly sweet maple sap and boiling away the excess water so that only the sugary syrup remains.  Sugaring off is a popular activity in the early spring in areas where maple trees grow wild.  Any type of maple can be tapped, but the sugar maples have the sweetest sap.

The first step in making maple syrup is to collect the sap.  This is done when the daytime temperatures begin to reach 40 degrees.  Holes are drilled, taps inserted, and buckets hung on the taps to collect the sap that oozes out of the tree.  The most sap will drip out when there is a cold night followed by a warm day.  It takes about 10 gallons of sap to make a quart of syrup, so most maple syrup hobbyists tap several trees.  Also, a tree that is over 10 inches in diameter can support a second tap. 

When a substantial amount of sap has been collected, the next step is to boil it down.  The sap is mostly water.  This has to be boiled away, leaving the sugary syrup behind.  The best way to boil it down is to place it in low flat pans over an outdoor wood-burning stove.  There should be at least an inch and a half of depth so the liquid doesn’t boil away, but you also don’t want to fill the pans too full, or they will boil over.

If you try to boil down maple sap indoors, be aware that it will create a lot of steam.  You will probably need to use your hood vent, if you have one.  Otherwise you will have a great deal of humidity in the house.  Sap can be saved for a little while if kept cold, but it will spoil in time, so don’t wait too long about boiling it down.  It can also be used as is for making sweet drinks.

There are several tools maple syrup makers use to determine when it is boiled down enough to be syrup.  One is a thermometer for measuring the temperature of the boiling syrup.  The boiling point will go up as the percentage of water goes down.  The boiling point of water is usually considered to be 220 degrees F. but this figure varies depending on factors such as barometric pressure and elevation.  When the sap has reached 66 percent sugar content, the boiling point will be about 7 degrees higher than it was originally.

When the daytime temperatures become too warm and the nights are no longer cold, the sap will stop tasting sweet.  This marks the end of the sugaring off season for another year.

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