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Maple Syrup 101: Tap Your Tree

Maple Syrup 101: Tap Your Tree

Do you know the difference between pancake syrup and maple syrup? Pancake syrup is the kind you find at the supermarket with, let’s say, a logo of a log cabin or a favorite aunt on it–and is primarily made of not-very-maple-y corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Maple syrup is made of, ta da, maple syrup.

In a case of unusually clear labeling laws, only pure maple syrup is allowed to be called maple syrup–any product that is less than 100 percent maple is usually referred to as imitation maple syrup, pancake syrup, or just syrup. Canadians sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau (pole syrup) because it tastes like it might as well have been tapped from telephone poles.

It takes approximately 40 gallons to produce one gallon of syrup–as of December 2008, the average wholesale price for a gallon of pure maple syrup is $44. One way to trim down on the cost of syrup and get a fabulous do-it-yourself activity in at the same time is to tap your own maple trees to collect the sap.

Tapping maple trees is environmentally sustainable–tapping a healthy, mature maple creates a “wound” in the tree, but it does not affect the health of the tree. Commercial maple tappers are able to tap trees, some with multiple taps, for decades.

Tapping your own trees might sound a bit daunting, but with the right equipment and a little instruction, it’s simple. The trick is to be ready when the sap starts to flow (sometime in February or March depending upon weather conditions)–this means knowing your maple trees (Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples will all yield a lot of sap) and knowing what supplies you’ll need.

The process involves tappng the tree when the sap begins to run and collecting the sap over a period of time. Although you can use the sap straight, some even drink it, the most common use of maple sap is to boil the water off until it is reduced to syrup. Because of the amount of steam generated, this is most often done outside on a gas grill or a small make-shift fire pit with support for a pot.

If you are interested in tapping trees in your yard, visit This awesome site offers a starter kit, with all the equipment you need and a guide providing straight forward instruction on how to identify your maple trees, tap them, and process the sap.

Storing Maple Syrup
Maple syrup should be stored in a cool place until opened. Once opened it must be refrigerated. For long-term storage, pure maple syrup retains its flavor best when kept in the freezer. Maple syrup will not freeze solid and can be poured into smaller containers for use. If you purchased syrup in tin containers, it is recommended, after opening, that you pour it into clean, odor-free glass jars (like canning jars) and then put those into the refrigerator or freezer.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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3:07AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

Remember that bit in "The Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingolls Wilder? When My daughter did a gap year placement at a lovely school in upstate New York, the head gave her a bottle of real maple syrup which she brought back to England. It was gorgeous! She still has the container.

5:31PM PDT on Mar 18, 2013

Love maple syrup from Ontario and Quebec, many local maple syrup bushes here and a walk through the sugar bush is always a delight. Have tapped trees before and while it is a lot of work it is always well worth it. Quite a delightful experience.

Some say boycott Canadian maple syrup because of the seal hunt yet the U.S. still exports horses for slaughter not to mention some wild horses are rounded for slaughter within the U.S. instead of just letting the roam free... instead of becoming dog food but everyone has a right to boycott. The fur hunt is unnecessary but I won't boycott the trees nearby as their sap is delicious. Montreal G, Ontario syrup is fabulous.

4:11AM PST on Feb 27, 2013

Awesome article & I love pancake syrup and maple syrup but no tapping trees in my yard.

8:44AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Tales from a kindergarten classroom.

I started tapping with my kindergarten class three years ago. We started with 10, last year we tapped 25 trees and made 13 gallons of syrup. this year we are shooting for 50 taps. Both myself and the children were got a bit addicted to the process. so much fun and I love your photos. I also blogged about the experience.

8:42AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Tales from a kindergarten classroom....

I started tapping with my kindergarten class three years ago. We started with 10, last year we tapped 25 trees and made 13 gallons of syrup. this year we are shooting for 50 taps. Both myself and the children were got a bit addicted to the process. so much fun and I love your photos. I also blogged about the experience.

7:58AM PDT on May 11, 2012

I grew up in Western Pa. and they also make some great maple syrup there. There used to be a road side stand that sold maple syrup products and I remember the cakes. They were shaped like a maple leaf and nothing but pure sugar. So good!
The first thing I did when I moved into my house back in 1983 was to plant 2 maple trees. One was a sugar. I am surrounded by woods and have several maples growing in them, but I wanted a particular type. They are now mature enough to tap and I have a kit I bought online, but this past winter wasn't cold enough and I didn't want to chance ruining the trees. Hopefully next year will be better.

12:11AM PDT on May 11, 2012

thanks for sharing

10:59AM PDT on Apr 13, 2012

I wonder if I could grow them for their sap here in Australia? (where it's a cooler climate of course)

6:18AM PDT on Apr 13, 2012

Thanks for the article.

3:54PM PDT on Mar 14, 2011

thanx. I am tapping a manitoba maple to give it a try.

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people are talking

Lots of good info. Yay for California! :)

Thank you for sharing. I love to support local growers and other local businesses.

@Maggie W., I don't mean to criticize (ironic, right?) but if you're talking about a genuinely ab…

Dried fruit is always available for me to snack on. Figs and apricots are my favourites.


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