A sure sign that spring is just around the corner is when Michigan’s thousands of sugar maple trees are tapped to release the clear liquid sap which is boiled down into delicious maple syrup. Part of the state’s overall $102 billion agricultural industry, maple sugaring dates back to the early Native Americans and is noted as Pure Michigan’s oldest agricultural activity.
To celebrate the arrival of the season, the Michigan Maple Syrup Association and more than 30 of its members once again invite the public out to experience this unique craft during the 6th Annual Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend, scheduled from mid-March through early April across the state.
Due to the state’s diverse weather and geographical elements, events are first held in the Southern Lower Peninsula (south of US10), March 17-18, followed by events in the Northern Lower Peninsula (north of US10), March 24-25 and throughout the Upper Peninsula, March 31-April 1. Attendees are reminded to wear boots as mud and snow may still be abundant this time of the year.
The family-friendly events provide a chance for people to get a firsthand look at how maple sap is collected, boiled down and turned into sweet maple syrup and other maple treats. Many of the farms offer tours of their operation, including tree tapping demonstrations, samples of their products, recipes for the use of maple syrup and local maple syrup products available to purchase.
Sugar maple trees – the best maple tree species to tap for syrup – grow throughout Michigan’s two peninsulas. In fact, sugar maple is Michigan’s most common tree species and the northern hardwood forest type in which sugar maple grows covers about 5 million acres. And while some Canadian provinces and New England state area are often recognized as leaders in the maple sugaring industry, Michigan itself has more than three times the number of sugar maples than Quebec or Vermont, meaning the potential for growth is unlimited. Michigan utilizes less than one percent of its potential maple resources.
Due to its high sugar content of approximately two percent, sugar maple is the preferred tree for tapping—although the black maple, red maple, silver maple and ash leafed maple (each with a sugar content of about one percent) are also tapped to produce syrup. As with any agricultural crop, sap changes from farm to farm and region to region, depending on the soil content. The area’s climate and species of trees also play a role in this industry, meaning syrup flavor profiles change from region to region, even in the same state.
Information about the farms participating in the Michigan Maple Weekend can be found online at www.MichiganMapleWeekend.com.
Founded in 1962, the Michigan Maple Syrup Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of maple sugaring in Michigan and the promotion of Michigan pure maple products, representing 130 members around the state.
Michigan Maple Syrup Facts
- Michigan ranks 5th in maple syrup production in the United States.
- Average maple syrup production in Michigan is about 90,000 gallons per year.
- Economic contributions of the pure maple syrup industry to Michigan are nearly $2.5 million annually.
- Maple syrup is a Michigan tourist benefit. It is a “thing” to buy.
- Maple syrup, as an agricultural commodity, benefits Michigan farm markets.
- There are an estimated 500 commercial maple syrup producers in Michigan with some 2,000 additional hobby or home-use producers.
- Michigan law requires that processor of maple syrup must be licensed.
- The production of pure maple syrup is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the United States.
- Maple syrup is one of the few agricultural crops in which demand exceeds supply.
- Only about 1 percent of Michigan’s maple forest resource is used in maple syrup production.
- In an average year, each tap-hole will produce about 10 gallons of maple sap, enough for about a quart of pure Michigan maple syrup.
- Maple sap is a slightly sweet, colorless liquid.
- It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
- A gallon of standard maple syrup weighs 11 pounds and has a sugar content of 66 percent.
- Maple syrup is the first farm crop to be harvested in Michigan each year.
- Maple syrup is not the recipient of any crop support or subsidy programs.
- A maple tree needs to be about 40 years old and have a diameter of 10 inches before tapping is recommended.
- The maple season in Michigan starts in February in the southern counties and runs well into April in the Upper Peninsula.
- Warm sunny days and freezing nights determine the length of the maple season.
- The budding of maple trees makes the maple syrup taste bitter. Thus, production ceases.
- Freezing and thawing temperatures create pressure and force the sap out of the tree.
- A very rapid rise in temperature (25 to 45 degrees) will enhance the sap flow.
- While the sugaring season may last 6 to 10 weeks, but during this period, the heavy sap may run only 10-20 days.
- Average sugar concentration of maple sap is about 2.5 percent.
- Maple sap is boiled to remove the water and concentrate the sugars in a process called evaporation.
- In a conventional evaporator one cord of hard wood is required for every 25 gallons of syrup produced.
- Tubing collection systems with vacuum can increase average sap yields approximately 50 percent.
- Maple sap becomes maple syrup when boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit, or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.
- Pure Michigan maple syrup has 50 calories per tablespoon and is fat-free. It has no additives, no added coloring and no preservatives.
- Maple syrup has may minerals per tablespoon: 20 milligrams of calcium, 2 milligrams of phosphorus, 0.2 milligrams of iron, 2 milligrams of sodium, 35 milligrams of potassium.
- Maple syrup is classified as one of nature’s most healthful foods.
- Michigan has a Maple Queen, who is selected each January, statewide.
- Michigan is noted for having two maple syrup festivals.