How is Maple Syrup Made?
- The sugarmaker must wait for the proper temperatures- freezing at night and above freezing during the day.
- A small hole is drilled in the tree to a depth of approximately 1.5."
- Sap is collected from the hole, either through tubing or in buckets.
- Sap is transported to a "sugar shanty" or boiling facility.
- The majority of the water is removed from the sap in an evaporator (for every 40 gallons of sap, about 39 gallons of water must be removed to leave 1 gallon syrup).
- When it has reached the proper density, syrup is removed from the heat and filtered.
- Finished syrup is hot-packed (above 180 degrees) to prevent contamination.
For syrup production, the most important factor is the temperature. Most syrup makers choose to make syrup in the spring when the freeze-thaw cycles draw water into the roots of the tree, mix it with stored sugar, and then force it under pressure out of any holes or wounds in the tree. Originally large gashes were made with a hatchet to allow sap to drip from the trees. Today's sugarmakers insert modern spiles into small holes through which the sap flows. Once the sap leaves the tree, it must be collected. Buckets sitting at the base of the tree or hanging from spiles were traditionally used, but today most large-scale operations use a network of food-grade tubing to transport the sap to central collection points, often under vacuum, thus ensuring sanitation and quality.
Once the sap is collected, the majority of the water must be removed. Sap leaves the tree at around 2% sugar, and syrup is just over 66% sugar. Traditionally the sap is boiled for long periods of time; the water leaves as steam and the sugar stays behind. Modern sugarmakers often use a reverse-osmosis process to remove water prior to boiling, thus saving energy and time. However, the sap must spend enough time boiling in the evaporator to develop the maple flavors we all love. Once enough water has been removed, the sugarmaker must remove the syrup from the heat quickly at the precise temperature for perfect flavor and density.
The hot syrup goes through one more filtering process to remove a crystal known as sugar sand that develops during boiling . Sap can be filtered in many ways, but modern sugarmakers use a filter-press to filter the syrup under pressure through a cake of diatomaceous earth, yielding a smooth, clear final product. After filtering, syrup for retail is hot-packed at 180 degrees to ensure a sterile environment
Want to learn more about making syrup? We welcome visitors to our maple farm in Croghan, NY during the maple season (usually between February and April each spring). Check back here or follow us on Facebook for our daily schedule.