A Brief History of Maple Syrup

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A Brief History of Maple Syrup

The process of making maple syrup is an age-old tradition of the First Nations people, who used it both as a food and a medicine. They would make incisions into trees with stone and bone implements their tomahawks and use birch bark containers to collect the sap. The sap could be reduced into syrup by evaporating the excess water by plunging hot stones into the sap. They also increased the sugar content by removing the frozen water layer after the nightly freezing of the sap. When the early European settlers came to North America, they learned from the Nativesthe Aboriginal people that sap could be made into sugar. They European settlers had access to metals and used their metaliron tools to tap the trees and then boiled the sap in the iron or copper kettles. Maple syrup was the preferred sweetener used by the early settlers since white refined sugar from the West Indies was highly taxed and very expensive. As white refined sugar became less expensive, it began to replace maple syrup and maple sugar as a relied-upon sweetener. Maple syrup production is now approximately one-fifth of what it was in the beginning of the 20th century. In Canada, sugar maples are only found in select regions.

Maple Syrup Today

Canada produces about 85 per cent of the world’s maple syrup. It is the world leader in exports, selling about 30,000 tones valued at $147 million, to more than 40 countries in 2003. In Canada, the maple syrup industry is surpassed only by frozen French fries in single horticultural commodity exports. Consumption of maple products increased from 110 grams per person in 1991 to 160 grams per person in 2001. Marketing has evolved from selling to traditional markets to more value-added markets due to the ability of the maple syrup flavour to blend well with other food products (cereals, yogurt, etc.). This industry contributes to Canada’s value-added exports, since more than 60 per cent of maple exports are now shipped in prepackaged containers. In the early 1970s, science helped this industry by giving farmers new methods of production. Researchers developed better methods of gathering sap with tubing, using vacuum pumps, reverse osmosis and various types.

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