There's a maple syrup shortage this year
Did you know there was a strategic maple syrup reserve, just like oil? Canada, which produces about 80% of the world’s maple syrup actually has just that. Due to the weather and demand, it seems that they are releasing half of this reserve, which amounts to about 50 million pounds. Maple trees need cold nights below freezing and warmer days of about 40 degrees to properly move sap through the trunks. Due to a warmer winter last year, the production was a little off from normal. What actually caused the shortage was more people at home, cooking and baking for themselves. The demand for pure and natural ingredients skyrocketed and since you use 2/3 cup of maple syrup to 1 cup of cane sugar, most people opted for maple goodness. People rediscovered flavors of their childhoods, or discovered that commercial pancake syrup had nothing to do with maple syrup. It is simply flavored corn syrup. The demand has exceeded the supply.
Native peoples introduced Europeans to maple syrup
Native peoples of North America first discovered edible maple sap and showed the European settlers how to treat it to create a sweet treat. Legend has it that it was first discovered when a chief was served venison that had been cooked in the sap and he promptly set about to harvest more. They either cooked meals in the sap, dropped hot stones in it to evaporate it, or let the containers freeze each night and removed the layer of water ice from the top of the container in the morning. European settlers refined the process and made the first sugaring houses where the sap was cooked to create the thickened syrup. Since sugar cane hadn’t been discovered by the Europeans yet, making maple syrup and sugar was a profitable industry.
Maple syrup is still sugar
Obviously, maple syrup comes from maple trees and there are a number of species that you can work with. Acer saccharum, the sugar maple is the most popular because its sap contains the highest concentration of sugars in its sap, which is between 2% and 5%. However any North American maple tree will produce some form of syrup and even sycamore trees were used by the native peoples for their sap. Just be aware that even if it is sweet, many do produce an inferior product compared to the authentic sugar maple tree. And though maple sugar is a natural sugar, it has the same effect on the body as other sugars do and a tablespoon of maple syrup contains about 52 calories, as opposed to about 60 calories per tablespoon in cane sugar. That's a little less, however not a significant reduction in calories.
Make your own maple syrup
If you want to make your own maple syrup, it isn’t all that hard. It is just labor intensive and time consuming. If you have your own maple tree, or trees, why not give it a try? You can do your own part to reduce the shortage in your own home. Just remember that it takes about 10.5 gallons of sap to make a quart of syrup. Tap your tree in late winter, when the days are above freezing. Here in Kentucky, that is usually in late January and February. Further north in real maple syrup country, it could be as late as early April. As long as the trees haven’t budded out and the nights are cold, you can usually harvest sap. Drill your upward facing hole about three inches deep with a half inch drill bit. Make this hole about four feet from the ground and either insert tubing or a spout that you can hang the bucket on. A mature tree can take up to three sap collecting holes. Collect the sap over a few days and many people find that a flat pan on a burner outside is the best way to cook it down. Doing this inside your kitchen isn't really a good idea. The more surface area, the faster the evaporation. Cook to 219 on a candy thermometer and you have maple syrup. To make granulated maple sugar, take 2 cups of maple syrup, place in a heavy, high-sided pan and boil without stirring until the candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees. This will take about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and start stirring with a wooden spoon. It will lighten and thicken and eventually granulate. Rub through a wire sieve to remove lumps and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Watch your grocery shelves, however please don't hoard
The maple syrup shortage is real. I just checked at my local grocery store and they didn’t have a single bottle. It can be used for so much more that a breakfast food. Use maple syrup in salad dressings, roasted vegetables, drizzle over ice cream and fold into butter and even whipped cream. I’ve even used it as a food for waking yeast when baking bread. If you have maple trees nearby, try your hand at making some. Hopefully, with the release of some of Canada’s strategic reserve, the shortage will be short-lived.
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