Filtering maple sap and maple syrup can be performed at several stages in the maple syrup making process. First, filter the sap to remove the natural debris that can enter during its collection in the woods. Pour your freshly collected sap through the filter and into another food-grade container. Alternatively, pour the sap through a filter and directly into your evaporator pan. Rinse filter with hot water when finished and allow to air dry. Filters can be used a few times before discarding. Avoid twisting or wringing the filter to prevent damage.
The second step in the filtering process is to filter hot syrup immediately after boiling to remove the niter sediment or sugar sand from your syrup. Once the syrup reaches a Brix rating of at least 66 it is ready to be filtered. Overheating your syrup can result in excess sugar sand and will need more filtering. Place the filter in a sieve or strainer basket to hold it securely in place while pouring hot syrup through it. Extreme caution must be used to avoid burns when boiling, filtering or pouring hot liquids such as syrup. For best results, these pre-filters can be used in conjunction with an orlon or wool finishing filter for maximum clarity. Again, rinse the used filter with hot water when finished and allow to air dry. Each filter can be used several times before discarding.
Finally, after bottling your syrup into clean jars or bottles, allow the syrup to settle for several days. If any stubborn sediment remains, it will settle at the bottom of the jar. You can then carefully pour off your syrup into another jar, being careful not to allow the sediment to leave the very bottom of the first jar. This process is similar to pouring or decanting wine, taking care to leave the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Sugar sand in syrup varies from region to region, season to season, and even between different parts of the same property. This is due to natural variation in the mineral content of the land where the trees are located.
Filter Care: Remember, never use soap of any kind to clean your filters. Store unused filters in the bag and away from cooking areas, fragrances or where they can absorb any odor. Any odor they absorb over time can be imparted into your syrup and ruin the syrup’s delicate natural flavor.
Maple syrup is one of nature’s best kept secrets. Most people don’t really think about where maple syrup comes from, even though it is commonly used in baking and universally enjoyed on breakfast foods like waffles and pancakes. If you’re here reading about how maple syrup is made, then maybe you’re not like most people. You’re the curious type; the type to ask important questions about the natural world like, “How can I make my own maple syrup” and, “Does maple syrup come right out of the tree that way?”
Those are great questions, so let’s shed some light on the maple sugaring process. Simply put, maple syrup is made from boiling the maple sap that’s collected from the maple tree. It’s then filtered and bottled. That’s it. Nothing is added – it is a 100% natural product.
Boiling the maple sap simply evaporates some of the water content from the sap until it reduces down to liquid sugar. You can make syrup from red maple, silver maple, sugar maple and others. Walnut and birch trees can make delicious uniquely flavored syrups too! The only difference between each type is slight variation in flavor and the amount of sugar naturally found in the sap.
Sugar maple trees are arguably the best for making syrup because the sap contains a higher percentage of sugars. This means you’ll need less sap to make syrup, compared to other types of sap from other species of maples. For professional syrup producers, where the economics of syrup production are important to their bottom line, sugar maple trees are the most efficient to make syrup from due to the higher sugar content. That means less costly to evaporate, and lower quantities of sap required to make syrup. However, for the back yard enthusiast syrup maker, any maple tree available to you is your best resource!
Sugar Making Equipment
To get started making your own maple syrup, you’ll first need tree taps or spouts (sometimes called spiles) to insert into your trees. A small 5/16” hole is drilled into the tree, and the spout is lightly tapped in. Next, a food grade drop line will connect to the spout and lead to a food grade sap collection container. We recommend 5-gallon food grade buckets with lids to collect sap as they’re sturdy and allow for several gallons to collect over a 12 hour period on days where sap flows really well. You can also use an empty spring water jug to collect sap with, though the buckets withstand winds and weather much better.
Maple sugaring season ranges from January to April depending on where you live in the country. Up north, Vermont and New Hampshire will see their sugaring season run well into April; while states further south like Connecticut and Rhode Island may see the season end by late March. You’ll know the season is over once the buds sprout on the maple tree. Once the buds sprout open, the sap will get an unpleasant leafy flavor to it and you’ll have to stop sap collection.
The Right Weatherfor Maple Sap Flow
Maple sap flows when temperatures are at or below freezing at night, and above freezing during the day. The weather is the single most important factor in making maple syrup. Temperatures control the biological processes of the trees, including sap production and their transport of sap throughout the tree. Weather patterns vary by region and year, so the season will change each year. Some years January will be extra cold, so sap will not flow until February and March. In other years, a milder January and faster warm up in March can lead to an early start to the season, and an early end too.
Generally speaking, you want to see temperatures in the 20’s at night and around 40 during the day. That is really the sweet spot – pun intended. Sometimes temperatures will show this exact pattern for 4-5 days in a row, and you will know it’s going to be excellent for sap collection. You may get several very cold days at which point sap yield will drop, but the pattern of 20’s at night and 40 during the day will start again. Monitoring weather conditions will become second nature to you as you get more experience checking your containers for sap.
In my opinion, this is a really beautiful way to be present and connect with nature. You’ll be witnessing firsthand the tree’s processes and response to weather as it gears up its sap resources to prepare for a season of new growth.
Collecting and Boiling Maple Tree Sap
Maple tree sap must be kept cold and refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. It is recommended that you boil the sap collected within 24hrs. This means you’ll be collecting sap and boiling consistently throughout the weeks of the season.
For large quantities of sap, an outdoor evaporator is a good idea. Homemade or enthusiast grade evaporators can range from inexpensive (think: under $100) to upwards of $1,000 or more. Wood fired evaporators are most cost effective compared to propane units. You will go through a lot of propane tanks trying to boil sap down this way. For small quantities of syrup, you can boil at your kitchen stove from start to finish. For medium quantities of syrup, it’s a good idea to invest in an outdoor boil, and you can then finish boiling indoors on your kitchen stove. Figuring out what balance is right for you depends on how many trees you have tapped and what quantities you are boiling. This will fall into place quickly after just a few days of experience.
Filtering the Sap and Syrup
Part of the process of making maple syrup involves filtering out natural sugar sand called niter. This is natural mineral sediment that occurs in the syrup after boiling down the sap. Our tree tapping kits include filters which can be used for filtering freshly collected sap and also double as a great way to reduce the sugar sand by filtering hot syrup. For a completely clear syrup, you’ll need to also run the syrup through an additional orlon or synthetic filter element.
Maple syrup is one of the most universally loved natural food products ever discovered. Long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans were producing maple syrup from the land.
The standard grading system rules for maple syrup officially changed in 2015 with slightly different names announced by the USDA. The grading system describes how syrup’s flavor and color spectrum ranges from light to dark with several variations along the way. There are 5 different grades, however we will discuss the three most popular today.
Traditionally known as “Grade A Light Amber”, the new description for this syrup is “Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste”. This light, golden syrup is produced very early in the season when the sap flow first begins. As any maple tapper knows, the first sap flow of the year is eagerly anticipated as we come out of winter’s deep freeze. The early sap flow is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention to the weather patterns in your region.
This early sap flow that produces golden color syrup is very short, approximately the first two weeks or so of the season. This light, golden syrup is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, its delicate and subtle flavor is unmatched by the darker grades produced as the season progresses. It has a floral quality to it with wildflower notes and a very mild finish of caramelized sugar. Secondly, this golden color syrup is usually harder to find and produced in smaller quantities due to the nature of the season. The early sap flow required to make it is short, so it’s rare in that sense.
Golden color, light tasting syrup pairs well with blueberry waffles, Camembert cheese, or drizzled on top of your favorite organic fruit dish. Try using it in tea as a replacement for your usual sweetener.
As the maple season progresses, the syrup produced darkens slightly into the classic “Grade A Medium Amber” now called “Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste” under the new USDA grading system guidelines.
This rich tasting amber syrup is the most classic flavor of maple that most people will think of when looking for maple syrup products. Its flavor is much stronger than the light grade, with a beautiful color of aged Scotch. This grade will be produced throughout the bulk of the harvest season and is most commonly found throughout the Spring and Summer until syrup producers sell out. Pair with anything and everything!
If you’re looking to give a gift of maple syrup, the amber color rich taste is the classic bottle to go with; it will be enjoyed by everyone.
Finally, as the maple sugaring season draws to an end late in the Spring, the syrup produced steadily darkens. Changes in the weather and the trees’ internal chemistry cause the sap to develop this way. The syrup produced during this time traditionally known as “Grade A Dark Amber” is now called “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.”
This late-season grade has wonderful toasted caramel and brown sugar notes. The initial flavor on your palette is like melted browned butter, which is a joy to experience. The stronger flavors are perfect for holiday baking and use in all of your recipes, as the flavor comes through better after cooking than the lighter grades. Pairs well with robust Vermont and English Cheddar cheese or cooked down with Fall squash, sprouts, and pumpkin.
No matter which grade of maple syrup you prefer, there is no right or wrong choice! There is no best or worst rating system. Just like selecting wine, there is a syrup choice and pairing that’s right for each person and each culinary purpose. If you can’t decide, a tasting sampler is the best way to experience several grades with a fun little maple syrup tasting. Tasters usually come with three or four small bottles of syrup ranging from light to dark, an affordable way to try them all.
As a note, there are also two more grades not photographed in this article: “Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste” and “Commercial Grade” or “Processing Grade” which is used in commercial food production.
How do I tap my trees? That’s a great question, and today on the blog we’ll show you exactly how to get started. The first thing you’ll need to do is identify what types of trees you have for tapping. Fall is the perfect time to identify the trees in your yard because the leaves have not completely fallen off of the trees yet. Next, you’ll need to pick up a maple tree tapping kit, available here with free two day shipping.
Step One – Identify Your Trees
Identify the trees in your yard and mark them with a ribbon so that you know which ones you’ll be tapping during the sugaring season. The shape and color of the leaves will help you identify what type of trees you have. See our maple tree identification guide here.
Step Two – Purchase Tree Tapping Supplies
Maple sugaring equipment can be purchased directly from our store on Amazon here. You’ll need a basic maple tapping kit which includes instructions, taps and food grade drop lines. It’s essential to purchase food grade equipment here so that your sap is not contaminated with any chemicals or other unwanted contamination.
Step Three – Tap My Trees
Once the sugaring season rolls around between January and March you can tap your trees! Figure out exactly when to tap your trees by reading our timing guide located here. You’ll need to drill a 5/16” tap hole in each tree, where you’ll insert your plastic tap into. Collect your sap into a food grade container such as a spring water jug with cap. Be sure to check the container twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Still have more questions about sugaring? Check out our FAQ page here full of frequently asked questions about making maple syrup at home.
One of the most rewarding outdoor activities during the spring season is to tap maple trees and get outside with nature! I tap my trees each year in early spring, which here in Connecticut is usually in February. Though unusual, sometimes the sugaring season comes early like it did in 2016 – where I tapped in January.
I love being outside during this time of year; the forest is calm as the sun begins to warm the earth. The smell of crisp spring air fills my lungs as I hike through the woods to collect ice cold maple sap. Snow melts from the daily thaw cycle, and the sound of spring birds singing and water dripping is all you can hear. Wether we’re here or not to observe its rhythm, mother nature carries on.
There is something enchanting about being out there in the sugar bush observing its beauty. To think that Native American tribes collected and processed maple and birch sap hundreds of years before us is amazing. Though the methods and technology have changed, we still collect sap for the same reasons people always have. We enjoy drinking maple sap, using sap to brew coffee, and boiling it down into maple syrup.
The best way to get started making maple syrup is to pick up one of our super affordable maple tree tapping kits. Each kit includes food grade drop lines, 5/16” tree spouts and a quick start guide explaining how to tap a tree. This is the same equipment used by professional sugaring operations all around the country today! Kits can be easily cleaned at the end of the sugaring season and reused year after year. It’s also a great way to teach kids about nature in both a school and at home setting.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and reconnect with the natural beauty that surrounds us!
We hear a lot of questions about how to tap trees, collect maple sap and make maple syrup. Today we will talk about some of the most frequently asked questions we see and answer them below. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, ask us in the comments below or connect with us over on Facebook!
What is the smallest tree I can tap?
The smallest tree you would want to tap would have a diameter of 10” or ten inches. Trees smaller than that should not be tapped.
Can I install more than one tap or spout in my maple tree?
Trees with a diameter of 10”to 17” can support one tap.Trees with a diameter of at least 18” can support two taps.
How much sap will I get from each maple tree?
Each tree should produce around ten to twenty gallons of sap each season. This varies depending upon the maple season and the health of the individual tree. For example, two identical trees located right next to each other can produce very different levels of sap.
How deep should I drill into the tree?
Drill into the tree approximately 1.5” past the bark and into the white wood. Total depth is approximately 2.5”.
Does maple tapping hurt or damage the tree?
Tapping does not hurt or damage the tree. Following proper care when tapping will avoid any damage to the tree. Only drill one tap hole with one spout for small trees to reduce stress on the tree. The maple is the only species that is self-healing, and the tap hole will heal and close up during the year.
When I’m done collecting sap, should I put anything into the tap hole to stop the flow of sap?
No. The maple tree will heal and close up the tap hole on its own. Never put any foreign objects or plugs into the maple tree.
What is in maple sap?
Maple sap is a complex natural blend of water, sugar, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Is it safe to drink sap straight from the tree?
Generally speaking, sap is sterile before it leaves the maple tree. However, bacteria can enter the sap once it leaves the tree and is exposed to the environment or your collection container. It is similar to consuming raw cow’s milk; there are both risks and benefits to consuming raw vs. pasteurized beverages. To be safe, boil your maple sap first before drinking it.
How much sap does it take to make a gallon of finished maple syrup?
Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap, so they work best for making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap boiled down to make one gallon of finished syrup.
Where can I buy a maple tree tapping kit and supplies?
Buy a complete tree tapping kit complete with guide sheet and instructions here at our online shop.
Learn how to tap your maple tree, collect the sap and boil it down into syrup! We just tapped our trees a few days ago here in Connecticut, and have already collected several gallons of fresh, nutrient-rich organic maple sap. We boiled down the sap with a propane gas burner until the sap reached a wonderful golden amber color and stored it in a sterilized mason jar.
This buttery, light amber syrup pictured above is characteristic of the syrup produced very early in the sugaring season. As the season progresses, the syrup produced will become slightly darker in a medium amber color, eventually getting very dark and robust in flavor as we near the end of the season.
How to Tap a Maple Tree
After properly identifying your maple trees, you are now ready to begin tapping!
Gather the tools for the job: drill (cordless preferred), hammer, food grade collection container, and a 5/16” drill bit.
Locate the tree’s Southern exposure. The side facing South tends to produce sap earlier than other sides of the trees.
Measure the height of the tap hole carefully before drilling. The tap height is based on the total height of your collection container and the length of tubing. Be careful not to drill too high up.
Drill into the tree approximately 1” past the bark, into the white wood, at a very slight upward angle. Remember to use caution and wear eye protection while drilling.
Insert the smooth end of the spout into the tree, while the barbed end inserts into your blue tubing. (Pro Tip: place the end of the tubing into hot water for 10 seconds to ease the attachment of the tube to the spout!)
Firmly tap the spout into the tree, and be careful not to hammer the spout in too much or it will be difficult to remove. It’s better to have the spout slightly loose than to have it stuck in the tree.
Connect your tubing to a food grade collection container. We suggest using a large, clean spring water jug or soda bottle. Be sure to check the collection container daily, up to twice a day (morning and night) as the flow of sap varies by tree and temperature.
When you’re finished collection, the equipment can be cleaned and reused next year. (Pro Tip: to ease disassembly of the tube and spout, place in hot water again for 10 seconds to soften the tube.
The clear blue tubing enhances visibility in the woods so you know exactly where your tapped trees are, even after an early Spring snow storm! There is nothing better than making 100% pure organic maple syrup yourself with these simple tools at home.
Maple tapping season runs from January through April, and varies by region. Birch sap flow begins when maple season ends. The season’s length also varies by earth climate patterns year to year. Please research the season in your region before ordering, or send us a message and we’ll be happy to help.
5. In 2012, thieves stole $20 million dollars worth of syrup from reserves in Montreal, Canada.
6. In Japan, people eat fried maple leaves as a delicacy.
7. Canada produces over 80% of the world’s total maple syrup supply.
8. There are several grades and colors of maple syrup, and each has different flavors and nuances. Syrup produced early in the season is light amber with light flavor, and gradually darkens in color and strengthens in flavor as the sugaring season progresses.
9. The maple tree is the only tree that is self healing.
10. Maple water is the new coconut water! Maple sap is now commercially sold as a beverage.
11. Drinking sap from the maple tree known as Gorosoe has long been a spring tradition in South Korea.
12. Sap is enjoyed at heated public bath houses across South Korea each spring. They believe in sweating out toxins from the body and rejuvenating the body with healthy minerals and nutrients from maple sap.