Maple syrup, a common and delicious condiment, is abundant this holiday season as people move inside and plan on eating lots of carbohydrates for the winter; including pancakes and waffles. But those tasty breakfast treats aren’t nearly as delicious without some sweet maple syrup to pour on top.
In Maryland, sugaring is less common than in colder climates like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada, but the same process occurs within the tree. Regardless of location, all trees produce sugar for energy that is stored as starch in their roots during the winter.
In the winter and very early spring, freeze-thaw cycles encourage trees to turn that starch back into usable sap, so the tree has energy and is ready to begin growing in the spring when the weather turns and is sunny again.
Trees mix water from the roots with the stored starch to produce a very dilute sap. Taps in the form of traditional metal buckets or common plastic tubing are inserted into the outer edge of the tree, and the sap begins to flow as temperatures at night are below freezing, while daytime temperatures are above freezing.
At this point, the diluted sap is stored in tanks, and heated so that the sugar content concentrates, going from 2% to 67%. On average, about 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of maple syrup. This evaporation step takes a long time, and a lot of firewood or gas is used to heat the sugar water so it becomes the thick, sticky syrup for breakfast.
Sugar maples are aptly named and used for this process because they have one of the sweetest saps around; as they are one of the trees with the highest sugar content. Other trees can produce sap that is turned into syrup; however, it usually has an unpleasant flavor.
If you have a sugar maple planted, consider yourself lucky to have one of the sweetest trees in the yard! If you don’t have one nearby, pick one up at Patuxent Nursery today.