Maple syrup

The origins

The Legend of Nokomis

The Amerindians were the first to discover maple syrup or sinzibuckwud, which means “drawn from wood” in Algonquin. One First Nations legend attributes the discovery of maple syrup to Nokomis (the Earth), grandmother of Manabush, hero of numerous Indian legends.  Nokomis was the first to pierce holes in a tree trunk to collect the sap.  […]
The origins

The Legend of Nokomis (cont.)

[...] Manabush, noticing that the sap was actually syrup that was ready to eat, sought out his grandmother and told her, “Grandmother, it’s not right that the trees produce sugar so easily. If man can so easily obtain sugar, it won’t be long before he becomes lazy. We have to try to make them work.  Before they can taste this exquisite syrup, it would be good if men would have to split wood and spend their nights watching the syrup boil.” [...]
The origins

The Legend of Nokomis (cont.)

[...] Manabush was afraid that Nokomis wouldn’t heed his words and wouldn’t take the necessary steps. So he climbed high into a maple with a bucket filled with water and poured the water down into the trunk, dissolving the sugar that was inside.  And ever afterwards, the sap in the trees ran no sweeter than rainwater, and man worked long days and nights to make it into sweet syrup.

The first maple syrup harvests

First Nations peoples used a tomahawk to make a v-shaped cut in a tree trunk. They would then insert a spigot or a bent piece of bark to direct the sap into a birch bark container. They boiled the sap they collected in clay pots to make maple syrup. The syrup was then drunk as a sweet beverage or used in cooking, as it was full of energy and nutrients.

The first white settlers and fur traders introduced wooden buckets and cooking pots of iron and copper to the syrup making process. Later, they replaced the spigot and bark with handmade taps from which they hung the buckets.

Today, over 85% of maple producers use a system of vacuum tubes, and every producing tree is connected to this network. The tubes carry the sap under the force of gravity down to a pumping station at the lowest point in the sugar bush. All that’s left to do is pump the sap to the sugar shack for processing into maple syrup.
The Harvest Process


Maple producers use a drill to pierce a hole 1 cm in diameter by 5 cm deep in the tree. It’s often possible to have multiple taps per tree without harming it. It is not advisable, however, to make multiple holes when the trunk is less than 25 cm in diameter. After making each hole, the producer inserts a spile that directs the sap into a bucket.
The Harvest Process

Collecting the Sap

Traditionally, sugar bush operators collected the sap buckets by hand. Later they used a horse-drawn sleigh to get the sap to the sugar shack.

Today, sophisticated tubing networks link each individual tree to a network that carries the sap directly to the sugar shack.
The Harvest Process

Boiling Down the Sap

Many maple producers today use reverse osmosis equipment to increase the sugar content in the sap and thus reduce boiling time. Next, on the same day it’s harvested, the sap is brought to a boil in flat metal pans known as evaporators. It takes on average 40L of sap to make 1L of syrup.  While it boils, the sap undergoes a series of complex chemical changes that are responsible for the colour and unique flavour of maple products. To obtain a quality product, the sap must be cooked at high, steady heat until its temperature reaches 104°C (219.2°F).
The Harvest Process


Before the syrup can be bottled or transformed into various products, it needs to be filtered of impurities. There are two methods of filtration, by gravity (felt filter) or under pressure, using a filter press. After filtering the syrup is ready for bottling and serving.

The mysteries of maple syrup

In springtime maple sap is fluid, almost imperceptibly sweet and just as clear as water. The distinctive taste of maple isn’t present until you boil it.

Maple syrup is a little bit mysterious. In the fall, the trees produce their own starch reserves which acts as an antifreeze for the roots over the winter. Before the snow melts, water enters the roots and the sweet sap starts circulating in the tree in preparation for the coming growing season.

In spring, during the thaw, the wood dilates. The water trapped in the sapwood is subjected to considerable pressure. All you need to do is drill a hole and it will spurt out. This happens between March and April, up until the time the buds turn into leaves.

The ideal conditions for a great harvest are thawing conditions during the daytime combined with temperatures that drop below freezing at night.

Types of maple tree

Maple syrup comes mostly from sugar maple trees, but it is also possible to make syrup from the less-sweet sap of red and silver maples.

Red maple

Silver maple

Sugar maple

Tapping and tree health

It’s important to understand that tapping does no harm to the tree. After the sap runs in spring, a thin scar appears around the tap hole. The wood is no longer active and the tree will plug up the hole over the next 2 or 3 years. The tree will continue to grow normally and can live up to 200 years.