Maple Syrup making is a long process. The first people to discover the art of making maple syrup were the Native Americans. The Native Americans would cut a diagonal slit in the bark of the maple out of which ran the maple sugar water. Then they used hand carved wood containers to collect the sugar water. After they had collected a fair amount of sugar water they would toss heated stones into the water to make it boil. It took them several days to get just a few gallons.
The Pilgrims also began making maple syrup soon after they came to this country. They got the water out of the trees using a hand drill and a wooden spile (a round hollow piece though which water flows) which was normally made out of sumac or elderberry trees. The water would drip into buckets and would be gathered for evaporation. The pilgrims would cook down the water in cast iron kettles over an open fire. We still demonstrate this at Sugar Tree during the Highland County Maple Festival.
Today we use gas drills along with an elaborate system of taps, tees, hollow tubing, and large 800 gallon to 2200 gallon tanks to collect the maple water. We use gas powered pumps to pump the water onto a truck for hauling to our sugar house. There we unload the water and filter it though a Reverse Osmosis machine which reduces the volume by two thirds.
The sugar water passes then under an ultraviolet light killing any remaining bacteria. The water is then sent into the upper end of the evaporator where it is boiled down to a specific thickness. Next the water proceeds to the lower end where more evaporation takes place and is finally sent to the finishing pan where it can be closely monitored. After being run though a filter for a final time, the syrup is stored in 35 gallon drums until it is needed for sale, at which time it is sent into the bottling room where each bottle is hand filled and labeled according to grade.
Maple Syrup Grades
Pure maple syrup is graded according to Federal USDA regulations, and is based on both color and flavor. The grades are: US Grade A Light Amber, US Grade A Medium Amber, US Grade A Dark Amber, and US Grade B. Some states use a slightly different terminology, as does Canada, but the legal requirements for each grade are the same, regardless of what they are called. For example: Grade A Light Amber syrup is sometimes called Fancy Grade, and in Canada it is called No. 1 Extra Light.
Characteristics of each grade
Grade A Light Amber is very light and has a mild, more delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. This is the best grade for making maple candy and maple cream.
Grade A Medium Amber is a bit darker, and has a bit more maple flavor. It is the most popular grade of table syrup, and is usually made after the sugaring season begins to warm, about mid-season.
Grade A Dark Amber is darker yet, with a stronger maple flavor. It is usually made later in the season as the days get longer and warmer.
Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is made late in the season, and is very dark, with a very strong maple flavor, as well as some caramel flavor. Although many people use this for table syrup, because of its strong flavor, it's often used for cooking, baking, and flavoring in special foods.
Which Grade is better?
All maple syrup grades are better than the artificial stuff. Otherwise it's strictly a matter of personal choice. Do you like your tea strong? Do you like coffee with cream and sugar? It's strictly a matter of personal choice, and there isn't one grade of maple syrup that is "better" than another.
What makes the different grades?
Maple producers have no control over which grade they make. As a rule of thumb, lighter syrup is made earlier in the season, and darker syrup is made later. But since we are dealing with Mother Nature in our business, anything can happen. Producers have seen years where 95% of the annual crop was light amber syrup, and some years yield almost no light syrup at all, when most of the crop is dark syrup. During the six-week maple production season, the weather goes from cold to warm as spring pushes aside the cold of winter. Additionally, the trees themselves undergo metabolic and chemical changes as they go from winter dormancy to springtime activity. The tree buds start to form towards the end of the sugaring season, about a month before they open up into small leaves. These changes cause differences in maple syrup flavor as the season progresses. Experiment with the different grades, and continue to buy what you like the best. Remember: There is nothing better than pure maple syrup.
Pure maple syrup is a 100% natural food, processed by heat concentration of pure maple sap. This sap is a clear liquid, which provides the trees with water and nutrients prior to the buds and leaves opening in the spring. In the boiling, concentrating, and filtering processes, all the nutrients remain in the syrup. There are some quantitative differences in maple syrup's nutritive composition due to metabolic and environmental differences among maple trees.
Sugars: Sugars are an important source of energy. The main sugar in pure Maple syrup is sucrose. The darker grades, especially Grade B syrup, contain small and variable amounts of fructose and glucose. In order of sweetness, sucrose is less sweet than fructose, and sweeter than glucose.
Minerals: Minerals have specific and nonspecific nutritional functions in the body's metabolism. In pure filtered maple syrup the main minerals present are: calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
Vitamins: Vitamins are essential to maintain health; they cannot be manufactured by the body (except Vitamin D) so they must be acquired through food or taken separately. In pure maple syrup trace amounts of vitamins are present, mainly B2 (Riboflavin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), PP (Niacin, B1), Biotin, and Folic Acid.
Amino Acids: Amino Acids are the building blocks of the proteins. In pure maple syrup many amino acids are present in trace amounts.
Fast Maple Syrup Facts
* The sugar water will flow from the sugar maple tree only when the temperatures fluctuate above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.
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