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The Sweet Truth About
Maple Syrup


by Daniel Boileau

Whoever would have thought that we would derive such pleasure from tree sap? When winter days reach a mild 5C but the nights stay cold, those with a sweet tooth turn to maple syrup, maple sugar and maple butter to warm their bellies in the last remaining days of winter. As the world's fourth largest producer of maple syrup (Quebec is number one), Ontarians have long known about this ambrosial elixir, having learned of its delights from North American natives when the first settlers arrived from Europe. Native tribes had such a liking for maple syrup that it was once used as a form of currency. The Anishnabeg people of Minnesota and other tribes used maple syrup as a basic seasoning for grains and breads, stews, teas, berries and vegetables.

Early settlers soon learned the process of boiling sap and later improved the methods; however, the process remains unchanged since those early days. What has changed is the technology. The sap that runs from maple trees across the south-east of Canada and the north-east of the United States is a clear fluid, very liquid and not very sweet. When condensed down to a 35th of its original volume, the sap becomes a sweet nectar with an abundance of uses.

In Eastern Ontario, lovers of maple products have lots of choice when it comes to choosing a maple delight. With over 500 producers belonging to the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, each producing their unique blend of maple syrup, sugar and butter, you'll never have difficulty finding a maple product to suit your sweet tooth. Whether you make your purchase from a country store, a supermarket or directly from a road side producer, be sure to look for the Ontario Maple Seal of Quality for a syrup that has been made by conscientious producers using best practices.

The finest way to experience maple products is to visit a sugar shack in March or April. Many local producers open their doors to visitors eager to taste freshly made syrup drizzled on snow. A day at a sugar shack is both educational and filling. Some syrup operations even promote delicious pancake breakfasts. Call one of the producers near you for their hours of operation.

"Make your own sugar and send not to the Indies for it. Feast not on the toil, pain and misery of the wretched" Farmer’s Almanac, 1803, on slavery in the West Indies.

"I am led to expect that a material part of the general happiness which heaven seems to have prepared for mankind will be derived from the manufacure and general use of maple sugar." Benjamin Rush

With notes from the Global Gourmet and Paula Giese on Traditional Native Maple Sugar.

For delicious recipes using maple syrup, go to our recipe page.


  • Ontario's maple syrup season usually runs from February through April.

  • The sugar maple tree has to be about 35 years old before it becomes productive.

  • In a good year the sap from one tap, will produce one litre of syrup in one season. A maple that is \line 10 - 15 inches in diameter will support one

  • It takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup.

  • 40 gallons of sap reduces to about 12 cups of maple sugar when further heated.

  • In spite of repeated efforts by Europeans to cultivate sugar maples, they have never succeeded in long-term cultivation. The secret is not in the trees: it's the climate

  • For the sap to flow, the temperature needs to fluctuate between -4C at night and 5C during the day.


  • Canada #1: Extra Light, Light and Medium (for table use)

  • Canada #2: Amber
    (stronger flavour—for table use, ideal for cooking)

  • Canada #3: Dark (for commercial use only)


  • To ensure you are getting real maple syrup and not an imitation breakfast syrup, check the label for "Pure Maple Syrup" and the name of an Ontario producer.

  • You can freeze maple syrup for up to one year in a tightly-sealed container, but be sure and leave 2 cm of head room for expansion. It will take about one hour at room temperature for the maple syrup to become pourable.

  • Opened containers should be refrigerated. If you see mould appearing, discard immediately.

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 34, Winter/Spring 2000. Copyright Dan Boileau.




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