You may think of maple syrup as that brown liquid you pour over pancakes at brunch, but there is so much more behind this heavenly nectar. Whether you’re obsessed with finding the purest Canadian maple syrup, or curious about the health benefits of it, we can bet you don’t know these 9 fascinating facts about one of our favourite condiments.
Most of the world’s maple syrup comes from Quebec
We all know that the best syrup comes from Canada, but most Canadian maple syrup specifically comes from Quebec.
As the largest province in Canada (and second largest by population), Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup.
The French-speaking province supplies approximately two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup with an astonishing 8 million gallons coming out of over 7,000 Quebec syrup farms each year. The runners-up in production are Vermont with 890,000 gallons per year, followed by Ontario, New York, and Maine.
Only three species of maple trees are used to make syrup
There are approximately 132 species of maple trees, many of which are native to Asia but can be found in Europe, northern Africa, and North America.
However, only three species of maple trees are predominantly used to produce syrup.
The black maple, red maple, and the aptly named sugar maple are popular choices for syrup producers due to the high sugar content of the sap.
A single tree can produce up to 15 gallons of sap per year
A single maple tree is capable of producing between 5 to 15 gallons (19 to 57 litres) of sap per season.
How much sap each tree can produce is dependent on a number of factors such as the age of the tree, how healthy it is, as well as factors like weather.
A healthy maple tree can produce sap for many generations to come and many syrup producing trees are well over a hundred years old.
However, it takes more sap than you think to produce that syrup you’re pouring over your pancakes in the morning!
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40 gallons of maple sap makes 1 gallon of syrup
To make a single gallon (3.7 litres) of maple syrup requires an astounding 40 gallons of sap. This means it would take 3 healthy maple trees to produce a single gallon of pure Canadian maple syrup.
The reason it takes so much sap to produce a single gallon of syrup is that even the highest quality sap has a relatively low sugar content! Yet high-quality syrup is composed, at minimum, of 66% sugar.
That sap has a lot to do before it makes it to our breakfast plates!
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Maple syrup is packed with nutrients and antioxidants
Canadian maple syrup is known for its delicious sweetness. You may even think you’re indulging in unbridled decadence when you pour this golden liquid over your pancakes. Compared to white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, however, maple syrup is by far the healthier choice.
Maple syrup boasts numerous health benefits. It is filled with antioxidants (which is great for your heart, eyes, and skin) as well as important minerals like zinc, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
It may even be a healthier choice than honey! These two breakfast favourites may look similar, but according to some sources, maple syrup has a higher concentration of minerals and antioxidants, yet fewer calories, than honey!
But don’t feel too guilty about adding an extra splash or two to your pancakes. It’s good for your heart (and soul)!
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The Iroquois people invented maple syrup
Long before European settlers came to the Americas, Native Americans – specifically the Iroquois people – had been transforming maple sap into syrup for generations.
They pioneered the tapping technology that drew sap from the maple trees, as well as the processing techniques to take it from fresh sap to syrup and sugar crystals.
Early methods of sap collection involved cutting a deep ‘V’ shape into the bark of the maple tree. Next, a wedge would be placed at the bottom of the cut. Sap would begin to flow out of the wedge and into bowls at the base of the tree.
There are many Native American legends about how the syrup was first discovered. According to one Iroquois legend, Chief Woksis had thrown his tomahawk into a maple tree late on a winter’s evening. The following morning, he removed the knife and, warmed by the sun, the sap began to flow from the tree.
Collected in a bowl at the base of the tree, the sap was used to cook the meat for the chief’s dinner. As the water in the sap evaporated, a delectable and sweet maple taste was left with the meat.
These traditional technologies and processes were quickly adopted by European settlers.
Today, the old-school method of tapping a tree using a spike and bucket is rarely used, particularly in large-scale commercial syrup farms. Farmers today use tubes and suction pumps – a far cry away from the knives and bowls that were traditionally used.
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There are different grades of syrup…
And they may matter more than you think!
There are three federal grades categories of maple syrup, based on colour and taste.
The first category includes extra light, light and medium grades (based on colour). The second category includes syrups that are darker in colour. Both categories have maple flavours that are considered to be typical for their colour grade.
Category 3, however, includes the darkest of syrups and, in Quebec, can only be used for industrial purposes such as in the process of making maple-flavoured foods.
Darker shades of syrup are often richer in flavour and provide a more intense maple experience.
The colour and flavour of the syrup is influenced by the season in which the sap is collected.
During the Second World War, Canadians used syrup instead of sugar
Maple syrup is perhaps the quintessential Canadian food and for many good reasons, as we’ve already seen!
Another reason why maple syrup is so popular in Canada can be traced back to the World War 2.
Due to war-time rationing, sugar was in short supply. Syrup was available in greater quantity and was far less expensive than white sugar.
The federal government encouraged Canadians to use syrup in lieu of sugar to sweeten their food. The Department of Agriculture even released a collection of special wartime recipes that used syrup, to give people ideas about how to use the liquid.
The Great Maple Syrup Heist
As the world’s leading producer and exporter of maple syrup is an important part of Canadian culture. It is so important, in fact, that the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers keeps a secret, tightly-guarded stockpile of syrup in strategic locations around Quebec.
During lean production years the stockpile is dipped into and redistributed to various members of the federation.
But in 2012 the stockpile was ransacked in a shocking heist of Mission Impossible proportions.
A dastardly band of crooks raided the federation’s primary warehouse and made off with 6 million pounds of maple syrup – worth an estimated $18 million!
Twenty-three people were arrested in conjunction with the Great Maple Syrup Heist but, heartbreakingly, a third of the stolen syrup remains unaccounted for.
What are some of your favourite recipes that use maple syrup? Let us know in the comments! Or head to our website for delicious culinary tours around the world, with Trafalgar.