Maple Sugar Day Festivals are on! This is the brief window of time during which real maple sap is collected from maple trees, and then turned into delicious, sweet maple syrup and maple candies. Lots of areas around New England offer the opportunity to visit and observe this phenomenon with your own eyes, including the Blue Hills Trailside Museum and Moose Hill in Sharon, MA
Also, this is the official Maple Weekend in Massachusetts (did you know there was such a thing?) Lots of information at the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association website: https://www.massmaple.org.
But if you are curious, you may be wondering: How does maple syrup actually get made from these trees? And why is the season so short? And what triggers the sap to start? Turns out that science can provide the answers!
The season for maple sap collection is when the day temperatures are above freezing but nighttime temperatures are still below freezing, which is why early spring/ late winter is the season for collecting. This also explains why the season is so short – those conditions don’t last so long – and also why some years the crop is so poor – abnormally quick spring time warming, for instance. Why does this cause sap to flow? The changes in pressure that are induced by these temperature fluctuations (less pressure when it’s cold at night; more pressure when it is warmer during the day) cause the sap to move up the xylem of the plant.
Sap can be collected from the tree by “tapping” it, or drilling a hole that drains into a bucket. Turns out that maple trees have to be at least 40 years old and at least 10 inches in diameter to have enough sap to collect this way. This sap has very low amounts of sugar in it, but boiling it under carefully controlled conditions turns it into the delicious maple syrup that we love to eat!
Now for my favorite question: Is maple syrup healthy? No. No it is not. Is it healthier than refined white sugar? Yes, but not enough healthier to outweigh the costs of consuming that much sugar. Consume responsibly, readers, and enjoy!