How is Maple Syrup made?

When the Sap Runs Rich - How is Maple Syrup Made?

By Bob Olden on April 05, 2024
4 min read

As winter transitions to spring in the Northeast you can count on the syrup producers making the most of the cold nights and warm days. That’s when the sap runs rich.

How is Maple Syrup Made?

Maple trees grow plentiful in this region since there are as many hardwoods as conifers. A maple farm can have as many as 3,000 maple trees and a single tree can produce in five to 15 gallons of sap, on average.

Like many crops, maple farming is very weather-dependent. Producers typically start tapping trees in early spring when the trees and their sap begin to thaw. In a good year, the sugaring season will last between four and six weeks.

The sap from the trees is siphoned through an elaborate line of collecting tubes, versus collected in buckets, on larger scale operations. It initially looks like water before becoming syrup through ultrafiltration and evaporation.

In the evaporator, the sap is boiled for several hours at a temperature of 220 Fahrenheit until the sugar content reaches 66%. The amino acids in the sap react with the sugar, causing it to brown.

This process results in the unique flavor of maple syrup, along with its desired color, aroma, and antioxidant properties. There are several different grades of maple syrup based on color. Grade B is the darkest and boasts the strongest maple flavor. It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

After the syrup is filtered it’s then stored in stainless steel drums until it’s time to be shipped. Cleanliness is essential to providing high-quality maple products. Maple syrup should be stored in a cool dark place and refrigerated upon opening. See the FAQ at the bottom of the article for more info.

Buckets collecting the sap.
Photo by: Hannah Miller, Maplebrook Farmstead Sterling, MA.
Maple tree sap thawing.
Photo by: Mud Street Maple, Thurman, NY.
The evaporator boiling the sap.
Photo by: Toad Hill Farm, Thurman NY.

Is Maple Syrup Good for You?

Maple syrup contains calcium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, and zinc. Even though it is high in sugar, it contains a wealth of antioxidants which can reduce oxidative damage in cells, potentially lowering your risk of some diseases.

A recent maple syrup study has shown that the delicious liquid contains a molecule called quebecol, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

It should be noted that if maple syrup is used as an ingredient in packaged foods, like granola, it will appear on the nutrition label as added sugars; however, the FDA only requires it be listed as a percentage of the daily value on a bottle of maple syrup. Regardless, it’s sugar and we need to be conscientious of our daily intake.

Maple Syrup versus Pancake Syrup

Although they may sit side by side on grocery store shelves, the two syrups are quite different. Pure maple syrup is all-natural in contrast to pancake syrup which is highly processed, containing high-fructose corn syrup. You’ll find added coloring, flavoring, and preservatives in pancake syrup. The coloring is often caramel color, which contains a compound called 4-MEI, a potential carcinogen. In a 2014 Consumer Report, they discovered that some pancake syrups had high levels of 4-MEI.

Print Courtesy of Toad Hill Farm, Athol, New York.

Other Products

Products include maple candy, cream, taffy, and even cotton candy. It’s quite versatile and can be used in marinades, vinaigrettes, baking, and even cocktails for an indulgent, natural sweetener. It’s even being used in developing sport supplements.

UnTapped of Vermont

UnTapped of Vermont was founded in 2013 by Ted King, a pro cyclist, and the Cochran Family, known for alpine ski racing. Their sport nutrition products include waffles, gels, and hydration solutions. They market a low glycemic, long-sustaining carbohydrate, with all the inherent compounds of electrolytes, in addition to being loaded with antioxidants. Check out how to fuel with maple syrup.

Thurman Maple Days

In Thurman, New York, where the Schroon River meets the mighty Hudson River, there are over a half dozen syrup producers and several more DIYers tapping the liquid gold that flows from the maple groves. The residents even host a jax wax party to celebrate each year.

What’s jax wax? Maple Syrup drizzled over snow. The event includes live Bluegrass music and a home-cooked meal. This year will mark the 63rd anniversary of the annual party, slated for April 6th. You’ll want to arrive early because the line usually extends into the parking lot.

In addition, the town hosts three weekends of Maple Days filled with family fun, tours. From watching maple syrup being made, to tasting goat cheese, to visiting a sawmill, and of course many scrumptious breakfasts.

Other Northeast Events

If you are in the Adirondacks, New England, or Eastern Canada, during late winter-early spring, make sure to get off the beaten path and visit a maple syrup farm. There are many events held throughout the Northeast including New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Did you know that Canada produces more than 80 percent of the world's maple syrup, producing over 80,000 tons annually?

Photo by: Valley Road Maple Farm.
Photo by: Mud St. Maple Building.
Photo by: Mud St. Maple Building.

Featured image by: Patrick Tomasso.


Does maple syrup go bad?

Yes, maple syrup can go bad, although it has a long shelf life if stored properly. Unopened, it can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and can last for a year or more. However, it can spoil or develop mold if contaminated or stored improperly. Signs of spoilage include off-smell, mold growth, or fermentation. If you notice any of these signs, it's best to discard the syrup.

Does maple syrup need to be refrigerated?

Yes, once opened, maple syrup should be refrigerated. Refrigeration slows down the growth of mold and extends the syrup's shelf life. Unopened maple syrup can be stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry, and it will last for a long time. But after opening, keeping it in the refrigerator is recommended to maintain its quality and prevent spoilage.

How long does maple syrup last?

The shelf life of maple syrup depends on its storage conditions:

  • Unopened: When kept in a cool, dark place, unopened maple syrup can last indefinitely. However, for the best quality, it's often recommended to use it within 2 to 4 years.
  • Opened: Once opened, maple syrup should be refrigerated. In the refrigerator, it can last for at least 1 year, and often much longer, if stored properly. Proper storage means keeping it tightly sealed to prevent contamination and moisture entry, which can lead to mold growth.

It's important to inspect the syrup before use for any signs of spoilage, such as off-odors, mold, or fermentation, regardless of its storage duration.

Is maple syrup vegan?

Yes, maple syrup is considered vegan. It is a natural sweetener made from the sap of maple trees, without the use of animal products or by-products in its harvesting or production process. However, it's worth noting that some strict vegans might have concerns about the impact of commercial sap extraction on forests and wildlife, but from a dietary perspective, maple syrup is vegan-friendly.

Where to buy maple syrup in Vermont?

UnTapped of Vermont is known for offering high-quality maple syrup and related products. Check out their website for more info.

Bob Olden
Bob Olden

Bob Olden is a contributing writer for KÜHL. He is well known for winning the 2010 Adirondack 540, a multi day ultra cycling race, which at the time was deemed the 14th hardest endurance race in the world, by Peak 100. Today he enjoys sharing his journeys, experiences, and his love of cycling with others.


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