Quebec City, Quebec CA – 12/02/2021 – The Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, aka. the “OPEC of maple syrup,” publicized in recent days that it would release nearly 50 million pounds (22.6 million kilograms) of maple syrup from its strategic reserve following a shortfall in the year’s expected production and increased demand overseas for its sugary gold. The 50 million pounds of syrup the group is draining represent about half of its stockpile. The Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, responsible for more than 70% of the world’s output, said the shortage was linked to a shorter harvest and high demand. This is the largest amount of syrup the maple cartel has released since 2008 and 2009, years where the group was forced to completely empty its reserve.

Maple syrup is made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, black maple, or red maple trees; however, it can also be made from other maple species. Maple syrup production is mainly located in northeastern North America; specifically, the northeastern states (including New York, Vermont and Maine) and the southeastern parts of Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Next to raw honey, maple syrup (and maple sugar) is the most popular natural sweetener in North America. Maple sugar is made from the controlled crystallization of maple syrup and takes several forms. Granulated maple sugar looks like brown sugar with variable grain size. It is easy to store in air tight jars and it will not mold or separate. Granulated maple sugar is often sifted to create a uniform sugar.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says warmer conditions made for a tough year for maple producers on both sides of the border. He says Vermont is keeping an eye on the situation to see what it means for our maple market.

Tebbetts said “As we know, Vermont is the leader in the nation of Vermont maple. It is the finest. We’ll be fine but sugar-makers will be monitoring this to see what it brings to them,” 

The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association’s Cory Ayotte says demand has been up as people turned to cooking and baking at home during the pandemic.

Ayotte said “People are using more maple, so, 2021 was not a good season for most producers here in Vermont and in Canada, as well. So, you know, numbers were down in production and, like I said, numbers are up in consumption. So, this all makes sense. So, it’s nothing too scary. It’s, you know, it’s kind of expected.”

Ayotte said supply chain issues have not been impacted sugar-makers the way other industries have been hit.

“Things are OK,” he said. “We’re surviving the pandemic, you know, because there’s a lot of other industries that are hurting from supply issues, but we’re still getting maple syrup out the door. And we’re just looking forward to a good 2022 season.”

Kevin McCormick, a maple syrup producer in Nova Scotia, said “This year’s production was lower overall, and it really was a combination of Mother Nature being uncooperative as far as a good season and the good news about maple syrup’s health benefits.” Nova Scotia’s maple syrup production was similarly affected by the weather.

“You need to have cold nights and then warm days, and that’s what makes the sap run because there’s pressure in the tree,” says Matt Chagnon, forestry professor at the University of New Hampshire.

About Maple Syrup

Indigenous peoples from the northeastern part of North America were the first group known to produce maple syrup and maple sugar. Aboriginal oral traditions and archaeological evidence suggest that maple tree sap was being turned into syrup long before Europeans arrived. European settlers adopted the practice and advanced production methods. 

Several tribal legends passed on through oral story telling explain how maple syrup production began. Some stories give credit to the squirrel, the Nanabozho or the Glooskap. Another popular story claims that venison was cooked in tree sap and served to the chief. The sugaring season became an important time for aboriginal tribes. Rituals were celebrated based around sugaring and celebrating the first full moon of spring, the Sugar Moon. Maple syrup was used as a sweetener and a flavor enhancer.

Native Americans collected syrup using primitive tools. They carved v-shaped notches into the tree trunks using sharp stones, they diverted the sap flow with concave pieces of bark or reeds into birch bark buckets. The sap was concentrated by freezing the sap and removing the frozen water or by dropping hot stones into the buckets to evaporate the water. The production of maple syrup is one of the only agricultural processes that evolved in North America.

Early European colonists in the northeastern part of North America learned the basics of maple syrup collection from the native people. The indigenous people showed the colonists when and which trees to tap. Fur trader and European settlers were involved in the maple harvest by the 1680’s. The Europeans adapted the methods used by the Native Americans to make the harvest less destructive and more sustainable. Instead of slicing the bark to release the sap the Europeans used augers to drill small holes into the trees. This method is similar to what is used today. Maple syrup was an important commodity in liquid and sugar form in the 17th and 18th centuries because it was used in place of cane sugar. Cane sugar was expensive because it had to be imported from the West Indies.

Maple syrup and sugar have played an important role in the history of the United States. After the passage of the 1764 Sugar Act, which imposed high tariffs on imported sugar, maple sugar became even more popular.

Before he became president, Thomas Jefferson liked the idea that maple sugar could be produced by citizens of the new nation and help sever it’s dependence on sugar grown on plantations in the British Caribbean using slave labor. At the end of a visit to Vermont, in a speech he gave in Bennington, Jefferson said, “Attention to our sugar orchards is essentially necessary to secure the independence of our country.”

Wooden buckets were made by cutting a tree down and into segments; the segments were hollowed out from one end until a bucket was created. The wooden buckets are seamless and water tight. After the sap filled the buckets it was transferred to larger containers like barrels, hollowed-out logs or large kettles. These vessels were transported to the sugar shacks by foot or with the assistance of draft animals.

The process of collecting and boiling syrup was energy-intensive and time-consuming. After being collected from the trees the sap had to be transported to the sugar shack where it would be boiled. Large collection areas usually had a central sugar shack where all of the syrup was made. Draft horses or oxen were used to pull large barrels of sap to the boiling location. The sap was poured into large metal kettles and boiled over large fires until the desired consistency was reached.

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