Exploring Canadian Maple Syrup

Made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple and black maple trees, maple syrup is a product that’s indelibly associated with Canada, though it’s produced by the United States too. Learn everything there is to know about maple syrup: how maple syrup is made and graded, where to buy it, what to expect from a sugar shack visit, and what other products are made from maple syrup.

Sugar Maple Tree - Exploring Canadian Maple Syrup

How is Maple Syrup Made?

Maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter and, as winter comes to a close and spring blooms, they convert it to sugar that rises through the tree as sap. The sap is carefully harvested by cutting holes in the trunk of the tree and collecting sap in an attached bucket as it slowly drips out. It’s processed into syrup by boiling to reduce the thin sap to a thick, concentrated and richly-flavoured sweet syrup.

The First Nations (native) peoples of North America were the first to harvest and reduce maple sap into syrup, and the practice was learned and adopted by European settlers. Methods were semi-industrialised and refined over time; firstly the method of heating and reducing the liquid by the use of patented evaporators to increase the surface area for evaporation, and more recently, the use of modern plastic tubing and vacuum pumps to collect and deliver sap directly from trees to processing plant.

The largest producer in the world today is Canada’s Quebec Province, which makes 70% of the world’s entire output of maple syrup.

Historical Photo of Canadian Maple Syrup Producers Collection of Sap from Sugar Maple Trees - Canadian Maple Syrup

The Different Grades of Maple Syrup

A grading system categorises maple syrup according to its density and translucency, with strict rules about the quality required to be sold as real maple syrup. The definitions have recently been revised, to harmonise classification terminology across North America.

Grade A maple syrup comes in four types, Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark. The palest has a delicate taste, the darkest is much stronger in flavour. The other two categories are Processing grade (used primarily as an ingredient in commercial food manufacture), and Substandard.

Where to Buy Maple Syrup in Canada

Maple Syrup is very widely available in Canada, especially in Quebec where you can buy it from small farmers markets and specialist food and souvenir shops, to large supermarkets. You can also purchase directly from producers, many of whom have farm shops on site.

It comes packaged in glass bottles (often made in fun shapes to appeal to tourists), in plastic tubs and flagons, and in tin cans, the cans often being decorated with beautiful traditional artworks.

I always buy the dark and very dark grades, as these are harder to find back home in the UK, and I love the intensity of maple flavour they possess. It’s also worth looking out for maple syrup candies and maple syrup sugar, both made from maple syrup and excellent souvenirs or gifts.

Farmers Market Stall of Canadian Maple Syrup Producer and Seller Tins of Canadian Maple Syrup
Tins of Canadian Maple Syrup Maple Stall at Farmers Market - Canadian Maple Syrup

Visiting A Maple Syrup “Sugar Shack”

In times past, the season for harvesting and processing maple sap was short, and producers usually called in their extended families to help during the busiest period of harvesting and cooking down the sap into syrup.

The foods traditionally cooked and served to workers during the harvest are nowadays nostalgia-inducing for locals and a tourist attraction for visitors. Today, sugar shacks serve up the kind of hearty food enjoyed for generations, and teach visitors about the traditional maple syrup production process.

Recreation of an Old Sugar Shack - Canadian Maple Syrup

Dishes on offer include ‘tourtière‘ aka meat pie, baked beans (with maple syrup in them, of course), yellow pea soup, maple-glazed ham, eggs with maple syrup, and ‘pouding chômeur‘ aka poor man’s pudding, a simple sponge cake and syrup dessert. Sometimes a maple syrup pie (similar to a British treacle tart) may be on offer instead of the pouding.

Sugar Shack Meal - Canadian Maple Syrup

If you don’t have time to stop for a meal, you may be able to get a bag of ‘oreilles de crisse’ (literally translating as Christ’s ears, these are actually smoky deep fried pieces of pork jowl, a very moreish snack).

Maple Syrup Snow Taffy

Most sugar shacks also offer visitors the chance to try “snow taffy” – maple syrup that has been reduced to an even thicker consistency than usual is poured onto fresh snow; when it starts to solidify it’s wound around a stick to eat as a chewy lolly. These days, shacks use shaved ice made in modern freezers to replicate the snow taffy experience even when it’s warm and sunny outside.

Snow Taffy - Canadian Maple Syrup Snow Taffy - Canadian Maple Syrup

Other Forms of Maple Syrup

As well as maple syrup itself, look out for maple sugar (made by reducing the syrup even further, so more liquid is evaporated out, and then blitzing to granulate the resulting solid sugar), maple candies, maple cones (filled with syrup or maple butter), and even maple butter (contrary to the name, this product doesn’t have any dairy products in it – when maple syrup is whipped to incorporate air, it takes on a more spreadable texture akin to butter).

Maple Syrup Popcorn - Canadian Maple Syrup Maple Sugar - Canadian Maple Syrup Maple Cones at Farmers Market - Exploring Canadian Maple Syrup

Save for later

Collage on Canadian Maple Syrup

We hope this post has given you the detailed lowdown on everything maple syrup. If you have any thoughts or questions, do leave a comment.

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21 Comments to "Exploring Canadian Maple Syrup"

  1. Catherine Brown

    Pure maple syrup is the BEST! I’m lucky to live in NH where I have access to local producers too. I don’t usually see it in cans, that’s cool too!

    Reply
  2. Beth Neels

    I will only eat pure maple syrup! There is nothing better in the world! I live in upstate NY so we have a lot of sugar shacks around me too. Such a fun visit!

    Reply
  3. Sonia

    Oh wow! Such a interesting read! I love Maple syrup and it’s good to know so much about you it.

    Reply
  4. Clarice

    I love maple syrup but to be honest, I have no idea how it is made. These are really good to know information and I enjoyed reading your post. Will try to visit a sugar shack next time we’re in Canada.

    Reply
  5. amanda

    I knew that Canada was a main maple syrup producer, but I had no idea that Quebec alone produce 70% of the world’s ENTIRE stock of it! I’ve never heard of a sugar shack either, so I’ll definitely have to experience that someday. Especially to try some snow taffy! It sounds weird and delicious at the same time 😀

    Reply
  6. Jane Dempster-Smith

    Thanks for the lesson in Maple Syrup. I have had it but never knew how it was made or where it came from. When I visit Canada I will definitely try the local brands.

    Reply
  7. Shreya Saha

    I am a complete fan of maple syrup. In fact after going vegan, when I have no access to honey, maple syrup is the only option for me. I cannot have my pancakes without it, but it is really important to have the right kind of maple syrup. In most cases you get the fake maple syrup, which means they are not genuine, but I am sure the Canada maple syrup will be so amazing in taste. You are so lucky and I wish I get to taste this maple syrup very soon.

    Reply
  8. Pina

    I’m born and raised in Quebec. I always stock up on maple syrup when I go visit my family in Montreal. However, I haven’t been to a sugar shack / cabane à sucre since I was a child. Must go back soon and have my British husband experience it too!

    Reply
  9. Vaisakhi Mishra

    I didn’t know Quebec produced 70% of world’s Maple Syrup! I really want to visit a farm and understand the whole process some day soon. This article was so educative! Oh and I love Maple Syrup Snow Taffy (had it in Vermont recently). Maple syrup itself is so yum but the taffy is like a fun little twist to it 😀

    Reply
  10. Emma

    I love love love maple syrup – definitely my syrup of choice! I even love it more than honey and golden syrup. I was clearly born on the wrong continent. I have a huge jug of the stuff that a Canadian friend bought back for me. I’ve not tasted anything like it in stores over here.

    Reply
  11. Archana Singh

    Buying maple syrup as a gift and souvenir have been my favourite too. Just like you, I too love buying the dark and very dark grades. While I knew Canada produces a lot of maple syrup I didn’t know Quebec produced 70% of the world’s Maple Syrup!

    Reply
  12. MEENAKSHI J

    What a lovely educative post about the most loved potion! I did once taste the maple syrup that was gifted by a friend who resides in Montreal. Now, I know why she sent me that..after all, Quebec is the largest producer of it..haha.Didn’t know this trivia until I read your post. We hardly use or buy it though, still good to know about the Maple syrup.

    Reply
  13. Diana

    Maple syrup is the best! I love that you covered so many different uses for maple syrup – including the tasty snack in the winter of rolling maple syrup in ice! My family lives in Toronto so I go to Canada quite a bit and always try to indulge a bit in maple syrup when I’m there (not a very difficult task since it is everywhere!)

    Reply
  14. Helen @ family-friends-food.com

    I LOVE maple syrup and I always buy Canadian. I was researching kosher maple syrup a few years ago and learned that ALL Canadian maple syrup is kosher and doesn’t require certification, because it’s just pure 100% boiled down sap. By contrast, American maple syrup often has other additives and therefore does require certification to be kosher. TBH, I’m not _that_ bothered by the kosher certification bit, I’d just rather have a better, purer product! Yum 🙂

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Oh that’s really interesting, I haven’t researched American so much, had no idea it could have additives! Interesting! Canadian is beaut!

    Reply
  15. Caro

    Really interesting post, I’ve never been to Canada but I know a good maple syrup from a bad, however in France we just get average maple syrup imported here! I love the idea of rolling the syrup in the snow to make an ice lolly!

    Reply
  16. Ceri Jones

    I love maple syrup. I have never been to canada though, and would love to go and watch it being prepared. So fascinating to learn more about it, great post Kavey

    Reply
  17. Brooke

    1) I have always wanted to get maple syrup this way

    2) I love maple syrup

    3) Now I want maple syrup… and ham 🙂

    Reply

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