The Origins of Maple Syrup

maple syrup in our roots

Through the ages, the simple act of collecting and enjoying the sweetness of the sap from a particular tree in springtime has become a major Québec industry producing a “liquid gold” that is prized here and around the world.

To First Nations people we owe the discovery of maple sap, which they had been harvesting long before Europeans arrived in the New World. Some historians believe the natives of this land, at some point in the distant past, desperate to avoid starvation, started cutting bark off maple trees. The cambium, the edible part between the hardwood and bark, is thought to have been a survival food. This presumably led to collection of the thin sap that the cuts caused to flow from the trees, which could have been used to cook game, corn, beans, and so on.

Red and silver sugar maple trees hold a treasure within: their sap, also known as maple water. The freezing temperatures of the Québec winter are followed by the warmth of spring, causing the sap to flow in the trees. Today, it is harvested by producers and transformed into 100% pure maple products such as syrup, butter, and sugar. All are made of this single ingredient.

1534

Europeans Discover Maple Sap

Jacques Cartier was the first person from foreign shores to see the sugar maple tree and its sap. He reported that the tree was called a “couton” in the native tongue.

1608

The Evolution of Cooking

Europeans and First Nations shared their food preparation techniques with each other and, over time, created new, blended ways of cooking. They drink maple water as a fortifying tonic.

1676

Maple Sugar

Iron cauldrons come with settlers from France, and the Europeans and First Nations discover how to make sugar in them from maple sap.

1700

A Businesswoman with Flair

King Louis XIV loved sugared almonds. Montréal entrepreneur Agathe de Repentigny gained great favour with the monarch by sending him maple sugar. In 1701, she exported 30,000 pounds of it to France.

1749

Bannock

First Nations made bannock from corn flour, bear fat, and maple sugar, a handy food on long journeys adopted by the French-Canadian traders known as coureurs des bois.

1850

Tapping Trees

Until this point, axes were used to slash notches in maple trees to release their sap.  They began fashioning wooden taps to drive into the trees instead, one of the first examples of maple innovation.

The first known sugar shacks appear in the woods of Québec.

1868

Sugar Parties

A standard of Québec culture today, the first sugar shacks (made of wooden planks) were built in the mid-19th Century. As early as 1868, “sugar parties” were being organized for city dwellers nostalgic (even then!) for their country roots.

1876

Metal Replaces Wood

Metal boilers and taps take the place of those made of wood.

1889

Invention of the Evaporator

The evaporator is invented and patented in the United States. The Small brothers adapt it for maple syrup production in Québec. It eventually displaces the iron pot, resulting in greater quality and quantities.

1932

Maple Butter

Maple syrup is boiled to a temperature of 112° C and, voila, maple butter is invented.

1951

The First Can of Maple Syrup

The 591 ml can of maple syrup appears on grocery store shelves, adorned by the legendary image we still see today. (The design was chosen in a contest.) Even more significantly, maple syrup in a can led to it becoming more popular than maple sugar.

1970

The Tubing System

Maple syrup producers begin collecting sap with connected tubing systems, replacing the bucket and barrel, horse and cart method of the previous 100+ years.

2005

Nutritional Values

Scientists identify the presence of vitamins and minerals in maple syrup.

2010

Quebecol

Researchers discover that maple syrup contains a molecule that is found nowhere else in nature. It is a polyphenol, considered beneficial to human health. They call it Quebecol.

2013

Maple Water

Maple water appears as a beverage, made of 100% pure Québec maple. Its quality is guaranteed by the new certification called NAPSI.

2016

The World

Québec accounts for 72% of world maple syrup production and maple products are now being exported to more than 60 countries.

2020

Massive Production

11,300 maple producers at 7,400 Québec enterprises are now generating an average of 120 million pounds of maple syrup each year.