When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times. Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener.
Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup. However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors. Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup. The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped. Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances. Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor. Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor.
On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average. A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.
While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous. One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:
- 20 milligrams of calcium
- 2 milligrams of phosphorous
- 0.2 milligrams of iron
- 2 milligrams of sodium
- 5 milligrams of potassium
Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution. If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.
Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few. Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.