Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

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. 

Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.
Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.

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.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA
Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA
Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA
Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Celebrate Maple Syrup Day!

Two containers of maple syrupGet the the pancakes, French toast or waffles ready for National Maple Syrup Day,  December 17th! Top them off with delicious and nutritious maple syrup!

Even though pancake syrup and maple syrup reside side-by-side next to each other on grocery shelves, they are not the same thing. Maple syrup is a pure product and contains no additives or preservatives. The maple syrup we find in containers begins it’s life as sugar in the leaves of maple trees, produced by the process of photosynthesis. The sugars are transported into the wood for winter storage in the form of carbohydrates. In the spring they are converted to sucrose and dissolved in the sap to flow through the tree. After that sap is collected it is boiled down to reduce the water content and concentrate the sugars. Those sugars caramelize giving us the characteristic color and flavor of maple syrup. It takes about 43 gallons of sap boiled down to make a gallon of maple syrup.

Pancake syrup is a highly processed product. It is made from corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. Pancake syrup also has coloring, flavoring, and preservatives added to it.

Maple syrup is rich in manganese, a mineral and also has antioxidants that may offer health benefits.  But like pancake syrup, it has a high high sugar content which can lead to tooth decay and raise blood sugar. further health problems for people with diabetes.

In March 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture implemented changes in the labeling system for syrup so it matches up with international standards. All maple syrup is now Grade A, followed by a color/flavor description. The changes are as follows:

Grade A Light Amber is now Grade A Golden Color/Delicate Taste

Grade A Medium Amber is now Grade A Amber Color/Rich Taste

Grade A Dark Amber is now Grade A Dark Color/Robust Taste

Grade B is now Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong Taste

Once maple syrup has been opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator where it will last six months to a year. You can also freeze maple syrup which will keep it safe indefinitely. If you are going to freeze it, put it in an airtight container and leave a half inch of headspace to allow for the maple syrup to expand.  Maple syrup that develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance or molds should be discarded.

Reviewed and updated, 5/2024, mg.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

More Posts

AnswerLine

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

Archives

Categories