underneath. It takes longer to complete the boil than with the
more expensive setup. The cost however, can be significantly
lower. My current configuration, including the pans, was less
than 60 dollars. If you already have a large stock pot and heat
source, your cost to get started could be very little.
Your goal is to achieve around 66% sugar in syrup. This
can be measured using a refractometer, specific gravity or
temperature. At 66%, the boiling temperature will be about
7. 5 degrees above the boiling point of water. The liquid will
be quite thick, and care must be taken as the sugar content
rises not to let it bubble over or scorch. The process proceeds
very rapidly as you approach 50% and higher sugar levels. The
syrup will also darken into a golden color as it boils down.
A good rule of thumb is that when it reaches a light golden
color, it is time to start monitoring temperature or sugar levels.
When I reach around 50% sugar, I usually will move indoors
and finish the last part of the boil on the stove, in order to have
better control. You don’t want to get too far from the target
sugar levels, as anything above 67% will be hard to keep from
The sugar from maple sap is almost entirely sucrose. During
the gathering and processing some of the sucrose is converted
to invert sugars by breaking apart the sucrose molecules. This
happens mainly through microbial fermentation and increases
with temperature, so higher levels of invert sugars are
typically present later in the season. These invert sugars result
in different flavor profiles through the boiling process and are
a major contributor to the complexity of flavors found between
syrups. The final color and flavor profile is also influenced by
caramelization of the sugars as well as the Maillard reaction.
The Maillard reaction occurs when the invert sugars react
with amino acids in the sap during the boil. Each batch of
sap is slightly different according to the degree to which
these chemical processes occur. The Sugar Maple Research
and Extension center at Cornell University has reported that
over 300 different flavor compounds have been found in
maple syrup. Birch sap contains only invert sugars, primarily
fructose and glucose, and results in quite different flavors as it
is boiled into syrup.
Once you reach the target sugar content, but while the syrup
is still hot, you should bottle it. Syrup bottles can be any
sanitized food-grade container. If using jars or bottles, sanitize
them and pour the syrup into them. This should be done at or
above 180 degrees F., the bottles capped and inverted to cool.
Some people use the water bath canning method to bottle their
syrup. You can also filter it before bottling, but this step is not
absolutely necessary. In most years, mineral compounds that
precipitate out during the boiling process create a ‘sugar sand’
sediment in the syrup. This will settle to the bottom of your
containers, but in clear bottles or jugs will detract from the
overall clarity or presentation. For small batches, syrup can be
clarified by squeezing it through coffee filters into containers.
For larger quantities, wool or orlon filters are best. It is also
possible to bottle syrup, let the sediment settle, then transfer
the syrup into a pot to reheat to over 180 degrees F. before
So, if you live in an area that has a population of maples,
or even birch, look for sugaring taps, spiles, and buckets at
the local hardware store or online. It may give you a new
perspective on the transition of winter to spring.