Sweet Treats from our Trees
By Sabrina Mastronardo, Communications Intern
Our maple trees have been on the farm for years. They’ve shaded the staff and animals in the summer, protected our streams, and added to the biodiversity of Rodale Institute. But for the first time this year, we’ve tapped into the trees for another purpose: maple syrup.
The typical maple syrup you might use to drown your morning pancakes is probably derived from the sap of the Sugar maple tree. Rodale Institute Research Technician, Kate Harms, saw that she could get similar results by tapping our own Sugar maples. But what about the Red, Silver, and Norway maple trees that are also scattered across the farm? For readers at home, would it be possible for them to use the mixture of maples in their backyard for syrup?
“There’s not a lot of data saying what kind of sugar content you can get from sap of other trees,” Harms said.
Pure sap is only 2%-3% sugar. The rest is water that must be boiled down until what remains is syrup with 66% sugar. The higher the sugar content of the sap, the less boiling it requires, a main reason for why people use Sugar maples, a tree known for its high sugar content.
Harms began tapping in February, a time prime for sap harvest, with freezing nights and w
armer days the sap flows through tubes into a bucket. After setting 97 taps in four varieties of maple trees found on the farm, Harms and her team found themselves with 600 gallons of sap. It was transferred to an evaporator where the water was boiled off for four days.
20 gallons of maple syrup later, Harms’ results were in: other maple varieties had desirable sugar content, too. By combining four types of sap into one bottle, diversity even enhanced the syrup’s taste. “Like wine, the types of trees, weather, time of season, and the soil will put certain flavors in it,” Harms added.
On the tags of Rodale Institute’s maple syrup, the word “pure” is printed on its front cover; it is a word that bombards consumers on boxes and bottles down the aisles of the grocery store. Harms explains how pure maple syrup tapped at home – or better yet, on a certified-organic farm – is much different than big syrup brands.
“At the grocery store, many commercial pancake syrups are anything but maple syrup,” she said, listing high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, and artificial flavor as additives. “Everything we do is right from the tree.”
Harms has been tapping maple syrup in her own backyard for the past six years, a process she says is easy for people to pick up at home. Instead of the heavy-duty evaporator used at Rodale Institute, Harms uses the grill or her stove to boil the water, and finds equipment to be inexpensive. Maple syrup production doesn’t have to be reserved for the trees of Quebec and Vermont. Harm’s work shows that the collection of maples in the region can yield the same sticky, sweet stuff. She and Rodale Institute are looking forward to next February, when she’ll again tap into the trees that have been here all along.
Many thanks to Leader Evaporator for their support of this project.