In Australia, buying genuine maple syrup can be a costly venture. Maple syrup can range anywhere from $50-$200 per litre. If you don't believe me, check out www.ocanada.com.au! I never understood why it cost that much and to be honest, I was pretty content with my imitation 'maple flavoured' syrup. After spending a week here in Vermont, I can understand why the price is so high.
Maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter which is turned into sugar and carried through the sap in the tree. By boring a hole or 'tapping' the trunk, you can extract the sap to produce Maple syrup. The sap is boiled to remove the water and leave behind the concentrated syrup.
Traditionally, the sap was collected with a bucket which seems like a simple process, however, it can take up to 50L of sap to produce only 1L of syrup and a single tree will generally only produce a maximum of 50L of sap per season! This makes for a pretty inefficient system.
To speed up sap collection, all over Vermont you can find fields of trees all 'tapped' and connected by a series of pipes. These pipes run downhill and the sap is collected at the bottom. While riding, you can tell when you reach the summit of a hill because the pipes stop. It is a relieving sight.
The sap is then boiled in traditional 'sugar houses' and graded (and priced) according to its quality. The best syrups are produced early in the season before the sugar has time to ferment in the sap.
In the USA, for a product to be labelled 'maple syrup', it must be made entirely of maple sap. 'Maple flavoured' syrups, 'pancake' syrups, 'waffle' syrups or 'table' syrups will contain other ingredients and are quite often made with high fructose corn syrup. They are only imitations.
After sampling real maple syrup, I have to be honest... I don't see what all the hype is about. It seems like a heck of a lot of effort and $$ for a pancake topping. I really don't get what the big deal is.
In a couple of days, I head to Canada, producer of around 75% of the world 's maple syrup. Maybe I'll ask them what makes it so special???