Maple syrup is very sweet and can be used as both a condiment and an ingredient.
The popular Canadian sauce comes from sap in the trunks of maple trees, which is then heated to remove the water and leave behind a thicker syrup.
It ends up a tempting caramel brown color, and is similar to things like honey and molasses. You can enjoy maple syrup on pancakes or waffles, in porridge, or for roasting vegetables.
One thing that can put people off buying maple syrup is the price – on average, a single gallon of maple syrup will set you back $31 in the US.
This can vary from state to state, and will generally be cheaper the closer you are to Canada.
Although less expensive in Canada itself, maple syrup costs significantly more than corn syrup, for example.
This is mainly to do with the process needed to produce the syrup, as it is both lengthy and labor-intensive.
Maple sap is harvested at the end of the winter towards spring (February – March), with the season lasting only 1-2 months.
This leaves only a small window in which to collect the raw materials needed for syrup production.
The trees undergo a process called tapping, which is when farmers drill a small hole in the trunk bark to let the sap drain out – this can be repeated daily throughout the season, until there is no sap left in the tree, by which point it will probably have yielded around 15-20 gallons.
Tapping itself isn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming, but it still takes a while to transform the sap into marketable syrup.
The substance collected from the trees is very watery and needs to be thickened. Pure maple syrup has nothing extra added, which means that water needs to be evaporated from the sap until it reaches the required consistency.
This takes anywhere from 2 hours to 2 full days, depending on the volume you’re boiling at once and how you’re heating it.
For example, 20 gallons of sap heated over an external wood fire will require at least 12 hours to make sure it’s not too runny.
However, it is also imperative that the sap isn’t cooked for too long, as otherwise the sugar will crystallize and render the batch unusable.
A farm that produces maple syrup is known as a sugarbush. Each maple tree takes 30-40 years to be ready for extraction once it’s been planted, so this in itself is a long time.
You can’t just decide one day to start a maple syrup farm and expect that you will start manufacturing the product straight away.
It is a long-term investment that requires a lot of planning, which can sometimes put people off in the first place and contribute to periods of low availability.
The good news is that maple trees will still be able to produce viable sap when they are over 100, giving them at least 60 years of useful life.
As per the last paragraph, each tree produces around 15-20 gallons (30-45 liters) of sap per season.
However, this includes a high percentage of water; by the time the evaporation process is complete, the end product has been reduced by 40 times. Therefore, from every 20 gallons of sap, you get half a gallon of syrup.
Assuming that a typical consumer-size bottle of maple syrup contains 250 ml, then every tree yields little more than 15 bottles in any one season.
Even the biggest farms with many maple trees will not be able to produce huge quantities each season.
80% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada, so only small amounts are made anywhere else.
If you don’t live in Canada, your maple syrup will probably need to be imported, which raises the price considerably.
Cheaper Alternatives To Maple Syrup
As we have previously mentioned, there are plenty of other syrups and sweet products that can fulfill a similar role to maple syrup.
It does depend on what you specifically need it for as to which one of these you use as a substitute, but they are all delicious in their own right without the hefty price tag that maple syrup carries.
- Brown sugar syrup – this simple syrup is easy to make, requiring only brown sugar and water that you heat gently until dissolved. It is best for putting on pancakes and it’s only slightly less viscous than pure maple syrup.
- Honey – if you’re used to the thicker, ‘pancake’ variety of maple syrup that is usually sold in grocery stores, you may prefer to use honey for that purpose. It is also great for adding a sweet, floral taste to your baking.
- Corn syrup – this can be used in place of maple syrup in the same quantity stated in the recipe. It has a sweet caramel flavor, so is ideal for both desserts and adding to drinks.
If you still want the same maple syrup taste without parting with too much of your hard-earned money, there are different varieties that you can get.
Maple flavored syrup contains maple sap, but not in as high a concentration as pure maple syrup. Because the other flavorings pad the syrup out, it is less expensive to produce.
Maple flavored syrup is also known as pancake syrup, and is widely available in most grocery stores or online.
Maple syrup is expensive compared to other syrups, due to the extensive process necessary to procure it in the first place.
It takes a long time to prepare the sap and turn it into syrup, whereby it is ultimately reduced to 1/40th of the volume.
Importing maple syrup from Canada can also be costly, but it’s the only way to make it available in certain countries.
Fortunately, you can usually substitute maple syrup for a different syrup in most circumstances – just be aware that it may alter the texture or taste somewhat.
For those situations when you can’t use anything else, it may be worth investing in a bulk quantity of maple syrup, because these can be found at discounted rates and offer greater value for money.