Canada’s indigenous Amerindian peoples first shared the sweet secret of the maple tree when they saw squirrels eating from the tree and thriving in the harsh winter conditions. Early settlers discovered the wonders of this natural sugar reserve and have become woven into the rich fabric of the nation’s culture.
Deep in the Canadian forests, primarily of Quebec, a unique natural freeze/thaw phenomenon creates the conditions for the sugary sap to be harvested from maple trees. And there are a lot of trees – 34 million in full syrupy, working order in the world’s biggest production hotspot.
Spring-time temperature fluctuations see the mercury flit above and below freezing. This creates the pressure inside the trees that allows the magic sap to be tapped from the trunks, typically over a period of days from early March to late April.
Tapping the tree is a time-honoured artisan trade and requires a small hole being drilled about three inches deep into the trunk. A metal spile, or spout, is inserted and the sap drips out into a covered metal container. By regulating tapping, the growth of trees is unaffected. New technology is sometimes employed and networks of tubes can be used for larger-scale sap collection. The tubes are connected to a vacuum pump inside a so-called sugar shack or house and the sap is gently prompted to flow.
Inside the shack, the sap is boiled to remove water and concentrate the delicious syrup. The process takes place in an evaporator and the high temperatures spark the clever chemical reactions that contribute to the density, flavour and colour of the syrup.
The syrup is then filtered, inspected, graded and bottled or canned before it is shipped to the UK – ready for you to use in lots of ways, every day.