It is no secret that we, as Canadians, love our maple syrup. Indeed, as it enhances the flavour of other products , maple syrup is in every recipe (meal or dessert)! In fact, we love male syrup so much that in 2020, Canada produced about 14 million gallons of maple syrup , to be consumed by Canadians or to be exported throughout the world! Although our love for maple products runs deep, very little is known about the history of the industry, the harvesting process, the effects of climate change on maple forests and the maple market. Let me fix that!
Maple is deeply rooted in Canada’s history. Long before Europeans first set foot in America, Indigenous peoples such as the Abenaki, the Haudenosannee, and the Mi’kmaq harvested and consumed their own maple . These products are mainly maple sap and maple syrup. When the French settlers arrived, it is the Indigenous people who taught them to harvest maple sap and turn it into maple syrup . Before the 19th century, maple sap was harvested using an axe and a birch bucket. Then, the drill and metal buckets with lids replaced them . Nowadays, complex systems of vacuuming tubes mostly are used since they greatly reduce labour.
Fun fact! Are you wondering why all maple syrup cans have the red sugar shack with trees and horses design? Well wonder no more: in the 1950s, the Department of Agriculture launched a competition to determine the design of the maple syrup can . Unfortunately, the story does not tell who won the contest, but we surely know what their drawing looks like…
All four seasons play an important part in creating the sweet liquid that is maple sap. It all starts in summer and fall when the maple tree produces sugar through photosynthesis . During the winter, the sugar matures in the tree . When spring arrives, the big variations in temperature make it possible for the maple sap to come out of the tree . More precisely, the pressure build-up is what makes the maple sap flow out of the tree. During the day, in temperatures above 0 °C, the sap flows in the tree, creating pressure inside it . Since the pressure in the tree is not the same as the pressure outside the tree, nature will want to balance it by making maple sap flow out of the tree, giving us access to maple sap ! When the temperatures go below 0 °C during the night, the sap stops flowing . To balance the pressures, water will be absorbed in the tree through the roots, creating more maple sap . This is why darker shades of maple syrup taste stronger, while lighter shades of maple syrup taste less strong . Because the maple sap is more diluted with water.
Like many other parts of the natural world, maple trees are affected by climate change. In fact, as the planet warms, the variations in temperatures above and below 0 °C get less and less flagrant. Since these variations play a big part in maple sap harvest, maple product production is endangered. Specialists predict that maple forests will move north . Unfortunately, forests take a long time to move and maple trees need to be old (between 40 to 50 years old) in order to be harvested . This means that the production of maple products such as maple syrup, maple butter, and others will be slowed down due to climate change in the upcoming years . Now if that isn’t a reason to fight climate change, I don’t know what is!
Maple syrup is a big industry in Canada, especially in Québec. In fact, the gross value of maple products in 2020 in Canada was up to about 5.5 million Canadian dollars, 5 million of those coming from Québec . This is linked to a lot of maple syrup, 14 294 gallons , to be precise. Now you might be wondering what we do with all this maple syrup. The answer is quite simple: we are not the only ones who enjoy the sweet taste of this liquid gold. In fact, we export a lot of our maple syrup to countries like the United States which receives 60% of our exportations, Germany receives about 10%, the United Kingdom about 6%, and Japan, Australia, and France all receive about 5% of our exportations.
Did you know? Over the course of only 10 months in 2011 and 2012, 2,700 tons of maple syrup were stolen from a maple syrup reserve in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Québec . This amounts to about 18 million dollars of maple syrup . This event is known in history as the Great Maple Syrup Heist. The thief, Richard Vallières was found guilty of fraud, trafficking, and theft in 2016 and the court decided last year that he must pay a 9.1 million fine .
It is then made obvious that maple syrup is an enormous part of Canadian culture and that it has many interesting facets. Therefore, now that you have learned all about maple syrup history, harvesting, future, and economy, next time you’ll be at the sugar shack, you can impress your buddies by proudly displaying your knowledge of maple syrup.
Aperçu Statistique De L’industrie De L’érable Au Canada, 2020 – agriculture.canada.ca. 4 Nov. 2020, agriculture.canada.ca/fr/secteur/horticulture/rapports/apercu-statistique-lindustrie-lerable-au-canada-2020#a1.1.
Blanchette Pelletier, D. (2023, 31 March). Maple syrup is under threat. Radio-Canada.https://ici.radio-canada.ca/info/2023/sirop-erable-rechauffement-climat-niche-production-acericole-cabane-sucre-printemps-seve-quebec/en/
“Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/great-canadian-maple-syrup-heist.
Maple from Canada. “Maple Syrup.” Maple From Canada, 22 Sept. 2021, maplefromcanada.ca/products/maple-syrup.
“Maple Syrup Industry.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/maple-sugar-industry.“Maple Syrup Thief Must Pay $9.1M Fine, Supreme Court Rules.” CBC, 31 Mar. 2022, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/maple-syrup-heist-fine-supreme-court-1.6403757.