Step-by-Step in the Production of Maple Syrup

Québec is the pioneer of maple syrup production, from its beginnings to the latest technologies that optimize yield and quality.

Each year it begins anew. Weather conditions in the forest gradually change from winter to spring. The sugaring season generally occurs between late February/early March and the end of April to early May. That’s all of 8 to 10 weeks in Québec.

And in any given sugar bush, all that magic—the entire year’s production of maple syrup—happens in only 20-25 days! The time frame varies between regions, as the season may be coming to a close in the south-west of the province when the sap harvest farther north and to the east is just beginning.

Experience the whole process of maple syrup production in this video:

In January and February, maple producers go out to their trees to drill holes in them and insert taps. Each tree will take one to three taps, depending on its size. The maples are then all connected by a tubing system that’s kilometres in length.

The sap suitable for maple syrup comes from only two species: the sugar maple and the red maple. In summer, trees generate sugar through a reaction with the sun called photosynthesis, converting light energy into chemical energy. This sugar content allows the tree’s cells to breathe, promotes its growth, and accumulates in its roots as starch for the winter’s sleep. When spring thaw comes, temperatures vary between night and day, making the sap flow up and down within the tree.

Warm daytime temperatures cause the tree’s wood to expand. The sap in its branches is subjected to strong pressure and it flows into the trunk, dripping out the taps. When it gets frigid again at night, the wood contracts, squeezing off the flow, and more sap rushes up the tree from its cache in the roots. It’s a cycle that occurs because of the previous summer’s photosynthesis.

In the early days, people with maple forests at hand collected sap by hammering a tap into the tree and hanging a bucket on it. The pails would fill and be emptied into a barrel on a sled or wagon, which would be pulled by a horse or tractor to the sugar shack for boiling.

Today, in most operations, taps are carefully inserted into the trees and connected to a tubing system.

The tubes lead to larger collector pipes that move the sap, by natural gravity or mechanical pump, directly to the sugar shack.

The tubing system deposits the sap into stainless steel containers. It’s then pumped into a reverse osmosis system that uses high pressure to reduce the sap’s water content. This concentrates its sugar content and reduces evaporation time, saving energy.

In the evaporator, the sap is boiled for several hours at a temperature of 104° C, until the sugar content and other molecules attain a level of 66%, known as 66 degrees Brix.

It takes an average of 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup.

It is during the evaporation of sap that more remarkable magic takes place: the chemical process called the “Maillard reaction.” The amino acids in the sap react with its sugar, causing it to brown. This is its transformation into syrup, another natural phenomenon that produces the unique flavour of maple syrup, along with its desired colour, aroma, and antioxidant properties.

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