Maple syrup is one of Canada's most popular commodities and accounts for 85% of the world's total supply (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).
The production of this sweet sticky condiment is a rite of spring in Canada and draws thousands of people to maple syrup festivals in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Usually, temperatures dip to where the sap starts to flow in March and April. The timing changes each year though so if you're planning a visit, be sure to check conditions and open hours.
Maple Syrup Festivals in Canada
Quebec is the biggest producer of maple syrup, with Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia also home to maple syrup farms. In March and April, towns in these provinces celebrate this yummy, sticky condiment with festivals, and producers open up to the public allowing visitors to observe and participate in the making of maple syrup.
Fewer and fewer farms continue to use traditional methods of maple syrup making. Most have their trees hooked up to miles of tubing and vacuum pump the sap into tanks; however some operations, like the Sucrerie de la Montagne, send out employees to hand tap trees when the temperature is just right and then stand over a giant cauldron to boil down the sweet maple water until it is syrup.
Visitors at most any sugar shack can expect a tour of the facilities, explanation of maple syrup and how its made, and of course product sampling, sometimes elaborate meals with beans, potatoes, pancakes, tourtiere, sausages and more.
Maple syrup festivals may also include wagon rides, craft sessions, tours, demonstrations, snow taffy (see photo) and of course pancakes and other foods that feature the finished product.
Major cities in Ontario, Quebec and other maple syrup producing provinces will have maple syrup - or "sugar shacks" - closeby. Just check the local paper or online to see what looks good.
Maple Syrup Making
Maple syrup comes from the starch in maple trees that in warmer weather converts to sugar, mixes with water and begins to run. In early March, this "maple water" begins to run for several weeks. During this time, the trees are tapped, the run-off maple water is collected, boiled and reduced, converted to syrup and canned or bottled.
The final product falls into one of four grades or categories: Golden Color and Delicate Taste, Amber Color and Rich Taste, Dark Color and Rich Taste, and Very Dark with a Strong Taste. Basically, the darker the colour, the stronger the taste.
Maple syrup, as of 2017, costs about Cdn $10 for 500 millilitres (just over 2 cups, or 17 ounces). The relatively high price has much to do with the enormous amount of sap that needs to be collected in order to produce the syrup. In general, you need 40 parts sap to produce 1 part syrup, which translates to 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup .
The maple syrup industry is a prosperous and important one in Canada. A bad season can have devastating effects for producers.
Maple Syrup Recipes - Find Maple Syrup Recipes
Maple syrup's culinary uses extend beyond topping pancakes. If you're looking for sweetness, but with extra richness and flavor, try adding maple syrup. Maple syrup can be used much like honey to add sweetness to glazes, dressings, desserts and more.
Unlike some sweeteners, such as refined sugar, maple syrup is a good source of beneficial nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals including calcium, iron, and thiamine. Some health professionals claim maple syrup may have anti-cancer, antibacterial, and anti-diabetic properties. Others suggest we should not forget maple syrup still packs on calories and likely pounds.
See a wide spectrum of maple syrup recipes from Bon Appetit.