There’s nothing better than a stack of warm fluffy pancakes drizzled with delicious maple syrup. But as you’re savoring the flavor you may be wondering where maple syrup comes from? Maple trees, sure, but does maple syrup just flow out of it and get collected?
Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. What comes directly from the tree is not syrup, but rather the sap of the tree. It’s always best to boil sap, but you can eat sap straight from the tree including directly from the tap, in carbonated sap, in your hot chocolate, and in fruit drinks.
Read on to find out how you can utilize your maple trees to produce sap, and what you can do with it once it starts flowing. We’ll also talk about the best times to collect sap!
Is Pure Maple Syrup Straight From The Tree?
So, what the heck is maple syrup? Where does it come from and why is it so delicious?
Pure maple syrup does not come straight from the tree. It goes through a process of boiling before it becomes syrup. The syrup you see on the shelves of your grocery store goes through further processing and preserving to keep it from spoiling.
What comes straight from the maple tree is called sap. This sap is collected from maple trees via taps that are installed directly on the tree trunk. Tapping season only happens in the spring when temperatures are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.
This temperature variation creates a vacuum inside the tree, sucking in and releasing out the sap as it cools and warms. When temperatures cool down, the sap is sucked back into the tree to be used as nutrients.
As the roots suck in water, a process happens to replenish the supply of sap. According to a 2015 study, even when stressed from drought or pests, trees have a backlog of carbon that they use to keep producing sap.
Once the temperature warms back up the next day, the sap flows through the taps again. This process can happen for up to six weeks, as long as the temperatures continue to fluctuate.
In fact, the bigger the fluctuation in temperature, the more sap produced according to Indiana Dunes National Park Service.
How Is Maple Syrup Made?
With all that being said, how in the world do you make maple syrup from tree sap? It’s actually pretty simple, which is why a lot of people make it a hobby to collect sap and make homemade syrup.
But, to make syrup it takes A LOT of sap. According to the University of Vermont, to make a single gallon of maple syrup you need over 40 gallons of maple sap!
Once you collect the sap, it needs to be boiled to reduce the amount of water and concentrate the sugar content. Because there is so much evaporation, many people do this outside over a campfire or outdoor stove.
The boiling process should continue until the sugar content is around 66%, which can be measured with a hydrometer like Homebrew Guys Triple Scale Hydrometer. That’s when you know you have your syrup! The color should be light to medium for optimal flavor.
Can You Eat Raw Maple Syrup (Sap)?
When we say ‘raw maple syrup’ what we really mean is the sap that’s used to make maple syrup. So, can you eat raw sap straight from the tree?
Absolutely! But, take caution. It’s always best to boil sap and make syrup first.
You can eat raw maple syrup (sap) as it is sterile inside the tree and does not come in contact with any bacteria or harmful substances. The only time it has a chance to come in contact with harmful agents is when it exits the tree via a tap.
There are tons of different types of taps, each with its own unique design, and you can sterilize them all you want before putting them in the tree. But the fact of the matter is, if you want enough sap to actually use, you’ll have to leave the tap in for at least a few days if not weeks.
While the tap is in, it has the potential to collect some unwanted bacteria. This is rare, but it does happen if a bird or insect lands on the tap or in the sap – hey, they like sweet foods too!
To prevent this, you can install a filter on your collection system. The Maple Tapper 3pc Maple Syrup Filter Set is an excellent choice. It comes with 3 filters – 2 for filtering the sap during collection and 1 for the boiling process if you plan to make your sap into syrup.
If you’re wondering how in the world the sap won’t just sit on the filter, you’re thinking of the heavy, sticky quality of syrup. When sap comes from the tree it’s very watery, so it can flow right through the filter.
Another option is to place a lid over your collection bucket or container that covers both the tap and the collection container. This is considered best practice in the maple tapping biz, and the taps you purchase will typically come with both a lid and a hanging system for your collection container.
Is Maple Syrup Sweet Right From The Tree?
Before we get into all the ways you can eat maple syrup (sap) straight from the tree, let’s discuss if it tastes good or not. We all know maple syrup is deliciously sweet, but what about maple sap?
Sap straight from a sugar maple tree typically contains about 2-2.5% sugar. This sugar comes from the process of photosynthesis, which converts water and CO2 into glucose: a sugar!
According to Michigan State University, the sugar is stored in the tree’s wood during wintertime. Once spring rolls around, the sugar is converted into sucrose (sound familiar? That’s table sugar!) which dissolves into sap.
Here’s what all that science jargon boils down to: The sugar content of maple syrup is around 66%, while the sugar content of sap is 2.5%. That’s the difference in sweetness between syrup and sap. In truth, sap isn’t all that sweet.
Is it sweet straight from the tree? Not really. Not in comparison to finished maple syrup. But fresh sap does contain a lot of nutritional benefits, is unrefined, and there is anecdotal evidence that certain local saps can even help with allergies, similar to local honey.
Different Ways To Eat Maple Syrup Straight From The Tree
Now that you’ve devoured a couple of knowledge nuggets about syrup, sap, and the sap production process, let’s get to the meat of this post: how can you eat maple sap straight from the tree?
Get Maple Sap Fresh From The Tap
If it works for beer, why not sap? You can drink sap straight from the tap of your maple tree. If you’ve ever been to a maple festival, you may have already experienced this!
Place your cup right below the tap and fill it up. The contents will look like regular water, which it mostly is. Sugar content is not uniform and will vary from tree to tree. Trees that are more active use more energy (sugar) and therefore produce less sugar in the sap.
Your cup of sap will not be as sweet as syrup, but it does contain a little bit of sugar. It’s a nice change from plain water and enjoyable on a crisp spring day.
The best time to drink sap straight from the tap is on the first day. This will minimize the chance of it containing any bacteria. If the sap looks cloudy, it’s not a good idea to drink it as this indicates contamination.
Drink Maple Sap In A Carbonated Drink
If you’re a fan of things like seltzer water, club soda, or sparkling water, then you’ll enjoy this unique way to eat sap straight from the tree.
If you don’t have your own carbonator machine, you won’t be able to enjoy this option. But if you love sparkling water, it might be time to get one!
The AirSoda Carbonator is a great choice, modestly priced, and will definitely work to make carbonated sap.
To make carbonated sap, simply substitute your maple sap for water. Carbonate it up and drink it just like sparkling water. It’ll be a little sweeter than plain water, which isn’t a bad thing especially when the sweetness comes from good old mother nature!
Boil Sap To Enhance The Sweetness
This isn’t necessarily straight from the tree, but it’s close enough! Boiling your sap is what makes it into syrup, but you don’t have to go through that entire process of collecting 40-some-gallons before you enjoy maple sap!
Use your collection bucket or a cup to gather some sap, however much you want, and boil it for about 20-30 minutes. This will reduce the water content and concentrate the sugar content to give you a slightly sweeter taste than what comes straight from the tap.
This method is far simpler and takes less time to do than completing the entire maple syrup process. It won’t be as sweet as syrup, but it will be a much tastier drink than straight from the tap.
Boiling also has the benefit of purifying the sap, just in case there’s something in there that isn’t supposed to be.
Make A Fruity Sap Drink
There are plenty of things out there that are used to flavor water – lemon juice, flavor drops, flavor packets, energy boosts, vitamin packets. Pretty much everything!
You can do the same to your sap right from the tap. Consider adding pure fruit juice to the sap to give it a delicious fruity flavor. You can use your favorite flavors – blueberry, pineapple, cranberry, strawberry. Whatever you’d like!
Another option is to make lemonade. Use the same recipe on your lemonade packets as you would for plain water.
Make Maple Sap Hot Chocolate
Move over, fall! Spring is taking over the hot chocolate season. There’s nothing wrong with a delicious cup of hot chocolate on those cold spring mornings and nights.
And you can use your maple sap to make it!
If you’re using hot chocolate packets like Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix, simply substitute your sap for water.
If you’re noticing a trend here it’s because there is one: You can pretty much substitute maple sap for anything that would otherwise be water. Use it in your morning cup of joe, in your recipes, for baking, and, well, you get the point. The possibilities are pretty endless!
What Trees Can You Tap For Sap?
The industry standard for maple sap is to tap a sugar maple or black maple. They both have about the same sugar content in the sap.
Other trees that can be tapped for sap include red maple, silver maple, and boxelder. Birch, walnut, and hickory trees can also be tapped to make syrup, but the sugar content will not be as high as maple trees, and the process to make syrup is different.
Each tree can produce about ten gallons of sap, which might sound like a lot, but when it boils down to it (pun intended) it only makes about a quart of maple syrup.
If you were wondering if an oak tree can be tapped, it can’t. You can read more about the major differences between oak and maple trees here.
When Is The Best Time To Tap A Tree?
If you’re looking to tap your own maple trees for sap, knowing the best time can be essential to gathering enough sap for your delicious syrup.
The time to tap into a maple tree will vary depending on region and elevation. The biggest indicator is the temperature. You’ll want to start tapping your tree when temperatures consistently get above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.
The temperature fluctuations typically start mid- to late-February and last until April. You’ll know when the tapping season is over if the trees begin to bud. This process of budding takes up a lot of energy, so the tree will not produce excess sap. Instead, they’ll use the nutrients to create new shoots and leaves.
That’s All For Now!
That’s all we have for now on how to eat maple syrup (sap) straight from the tree! To recap, here are all the ways you can eat sap straight from the tree:
- From the tap
- In a carbonated drink
- Add fruit juice or flavoring
- Make hot chocolate
- Use it in your coffee
When in doubt, you can always boil your sap for a little bit to make sure it’s completely safe to drink, but for the most part sap straight from the tree is perfectly fine to eat.
Ball, D. W. (2007). The Chemical Composition of Maple Syrup. Journal of Chemical Education, 84(10), 1647. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ed084p1647#
Muhr, J., Messier, C., Delagrange, S., Trumbore, S., Xu, X., & Hartmann, H. (2015, December 07). How fresh is maple syrup? Sugar maple trees mobilize carbon stored several years previously during early springtime sap-ascent. New Phytologist, 209(4), 1410-1416. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.13782
Perkins, T. D., & Van Den Berg, A. K. (2009, April 21). Chapter 4 Maple Syrup – Production, Composition, Chemistry, and Sensory Characteristics. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 56, 101-143. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1043452608006049