One of my little joys in life is the magical elixir that is maple syrup. I’m not talking about Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth’s or any of that colored corn syrup; I’m talking about the real-deal straight-from-the-maple goo that makes any breakfast (or cocktail, dessert, roast) 10x better. You may wonder why maple syrup is so expensive — the average price per gallon is $35. It comes down to an issue of supply, demand, and overall effort that goes into making this wondrous product.
For every gallon of maple syrup, 40 gallons of Maple sap must be harvested. The sap is mostly water with a fairly low sugar content, and to transform this sap into syrup it must be boiled until the sugar content lands between 66 and 69% — above 69% and it’s no longer syrup, it’s taffy or some other maple product. The grading of syrup has fluctuated, but now there’s a consistent ranking system with Grade A being a light amber color with a light flavor and Grade B being the dark amber and more robust flavored. The color differentiation comes from the time in the season that the sap is “pulled” from the tree — lighter sap comes earlier in the season, while the darker grades are pulled later on when more of the starch is flowing through the tree. (I learned this from Food52’s Burnt Toast podcast called “Tapping into the World of Maple“.)
In delving into information on maple syrup, I wasn’t too surprised to find that 72% of the world’s supply of maple syrup comes from Quebec, Canada. What did surprise me though, was learning about the Great Maple Syrup Heist from 2012 in the above podcast and this Vanity Fair article.
The title sounds sort of shocking and humorous, right? So basically, there’s an organization that regulates maple syrup in Canada. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers takes in all of the maple syrup produced in Quebec, grades it (A, B, amber all that), and then distributes it, keeping around $54 per barrel as a sort of tax. Maple syrup is valued at over $1,300 per barrel, which is more than crude oil! So this federation keeps a reserve of maple syrup in case of a bad season, and to generally regulate the supply and cost of the product. If the reserve wasn’t around, we might go a year without maple syrup worldwide because of a bad season (which would be a travesty, I know). So in this reserve, 7.5 million gallons of maple syrup are stored. And in the heist, 540,000 gallons of syrup were stolen, which is 12.5% of the reserve and worth $13.4 million! That’s a lot of syrup. How do you heist syrup? They must have siphoned syrup into their own barrels, and they refilled the empties with water to buy them some time. Supposedly intense investigations recovered some of the syrup, but about a third of it was never recovered, which is a pretty big hit to Canada. So there’s some fun trivia to tell your friends if you’re a food nerd like I am.
What’s kind of interesting is that New York state has far more maple trees than Quebec maple farms, so if Americans put their mind to it, we could outperform Canada and seriously mess with their economy by not buying all of their syrup. America actually increased its production around 25% between 2015 and 2016, so we may be on our way.
While breakfast foods are the standard usage for maple, I love to use it as a sweetener in lattes, instead of sugar or simple syrup in cocktails, or even to substitute it in baking (like in this maple pumpkin pie). I’ve also heard it’s great on meats though, and I’ll be trying out a maple salmon recipe soon!