Saps and Syrups in Minnesota
It’s time to start tapping the sugarbush when we start to have warm days (above freezing) paired with cold nights (below freezing). Tapping Maple trees (Acer spp.) is a great spring activity for individuals, families, and friends. The ratio of sap to syrup is determined by the rule of 86 (86 / % sugar in the sap), and is roughly 45:1. Small producers, those with only a few trees, can freeze sap until sufficient quantity has been collected for processing. Maple sap is most often processed by reducing the sap to syrup through boiling or, more recently, through reverse osmosis. The resulting Maple Syrup can be consumed, traded, or sold. In some cultures, the sap is consumed without processing as a medicinal tonic. Putting a new twist on the old, Wind Tree Winery in Cloquet, MN produces a Maple Syrup wine. Demand has exceeded supply in the last few years and prices look to be great this year.
Each year, University of MN Extension offers Maple Syrup Clinics in different locations throughout the state. For those unable to attend, Extension has produced several publications on Maple Syrup and there is a MN DNR video on the process. There is also the MN Maple Syrup Producers Association. Ohio State Extension’s Maple Syrup Producers’ Manual (see image below) is a comprehensive resource for producers.
When spring peepers hail the end of the Maple Syrup season, a few hardy producers switch gears and collect birch sap. Tapping birch trees is much like tapping maple, but the similarity ends there. While maple sap contains sucrose, the natural sugar in birch sap is fructose. Birch sap, collected from Paper birch (Betula paperifyera) also contains several vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Native American Indians have long known of its medicinal benefits and there are many cultures that bottle the sap for a health drink. Alaska has several major producers that create a variety of birch products. On average, 100 gallons of birch sap are needed to make a gallon of birch syrup.The sap is processed differently, with boiling techniques that evaporate water and avoid burning the fructose.
Connoisseurs also tap yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis) in early spring, before the leaves unfurl. While yellow birch bark is a known source for ‘Wintergreen Oil” the sap is sweet with a slight wintergreen taste that is boiled to create syrups and flavor beer and wine. Yellow birch sap is known to have a sweet flavor, with very low sugar content. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post about our yellow birch tapping trial!
For more information on NTFPs:
- University of Minnesota Extension: Dave Wilsey (dwilsey [at] umn.edu) or Julie Miedtke (miedt001 [at] umn.edu).
- Careful harvest brochure. (M. Demchik, J. Miedtke, K. Preece, and J. Zasada)
- Nontimber forest products and implications for forest managers. 2002. M.Reichenbach, J.Krantz, and K. Preece. University of Minnesota Extension.
- Nontimber forest products in the United States (book). 2002. E.T. Jones, R.J. McLain, and J. Weingard. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence.
- Plants used by the Great Lakes Ojibwa. (book). 1993. J.E. Meeker, J.E. Elias, and J.A. Heim. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), Duluth.