From Sap to syrup: A Wisconsin journey
As winter begins to fade away and daytime temperatures remain above freezing, sap from Wisconsin’s state tree, the sugar maple, will begin to flow. All across our state, Wisconsin’s maple syrup producers will begin tapping their trees, collecting sap, and bottling syrup. This annual tradition highlights the diversity of Wisconsin’s agriculture commodities, and brings light to an industry with ties to communities throughout our state.
Last Saturday, March 7, I visited Inthewoods Sugar Bush for Wisconsin’s annual First Tree Tapping. The event celebrates the beginning of syrup season in Wisconsin, and the families who maintain and care for our state’s sugar maple trees. Our host for the event, Inthewoods Sugar Bush, mixes long-standing maple traditions with the latest technology to make their products. Their maple syrup is award winning, and has claimed multiple blue-ribbon awards. Located in Manitowoc, they tap approximately 1,300 maple trees each year.
Wisconsin sugar makers, as they are called, are patient: most trees are at least 40 years old before they are tapped! On average, the syrup season runs for four to six weeks, though this is entirely dependent on temperature. Temperatures reaching 40’s during the day and below freezing at night are optimal conditions for sap to flow. These warmer temperatures coax sugar maple trees to turn stored starch back into sugar. Sap is made as the tree mixes ground water with the sugar. The sap will run heaviest for 10 to 20 days before tree buds begin to open. Ideally, each tree will yield up to 10 gallons of sap per season.
After the sap is collected, it is often put through a reverse osmosis machine to take a percentage of the water from the sap before boiling. Next, the sap is boiled. This step is essential in converting sap to syrup. As more and more water in the sap evaporates, the sap thickens and the sugar caramelizes. The sugar maker will then test the syrup’s progress by looking for it to sheet or apron off the edge of a metal scoop. When it does this, the syrup is almost ready. The final steps are to filter the syrup, adjust the product for density and grade for flavor and color. On average, the 10 gallons from one maple tree will result in one quart of finished syrup.
Pure maple syrup is a natural, nutritious and delicious sweetener. According to the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association, abscisic acid (ABA), a compound thought to stimulate insulin release by the pancreas, naturally occurs in pure maple syrup. Additionally, choosing pure maple syrup as an alternative to refined sugar can add to the antioxidant content of a diet. While natural variations will occur, on average, a four-tablespoon serving of maple syrup supplies the following daily requirements: 100 percent of manganese, 37 percent of riboflavin, and 18 percent of zinc.
When it comes to using nature’s original sweetener, think beyond just pancakes and waffles. This sweet Wisconsin treat is not just for breakfast anymore! Add natural sweetness to your next baking recipe, marinade, salad dressing or stir fry when you incorporate pure maple syrup. My favorite? Anything with pure Wisconsin maple syrup and real Wisconsin bacon.
To learn more about this sweet Wisconsin treat, visit wismaple.org.
Abigail Martin in the state's 72nd Alice in Dairyland