5 Surprising Facts About Maple Syrup

updated May 30, 2019
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A bubbling vat of maple sap (Image credit: Cambria Bold)

Yesterday I showed you how maple syrup is made on the Robb family farm in Brattleboro, Vermont. While I was touring the farm, I learned a few surprising things about maple syrup. Did you know, for example, that you don’t have to throw away maple syrup if it gets a little mold on it? Here’s what you should do instead, and other surprising facts about this sweet syrup.

Helen holds a sample of that day’s syrup, which she holds next to industry standard bottles to compare color and clarity. (Image credit: Cambria Bold)

It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

If you’re wondering why pure maple syrup is pricey, here’s your answer. You have to boil tons of maple sap to get a small amount of syrup. The Robb farm produces around 500 gallons of maple syrup a year. That’s 20,000 gallons of maple sap they need to harvest, pump, and boil over the course of a season!

A tree takes approximately 40 years to be big enough to tap for maple syrup.

In order to get those massive quantities of maple sap, you have to start with a mature sugar maple tree, and that takes about 40 years. Anything younger than that just won’t work very well.

If you put a glass of water and a glass of maple sap side by side, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

When maple sap comes out of the tree, it looks exactly like water. It’s only when you boil it down that it starts to thicken and take on its signature golden or amber hue.

If you ever get mold on your maple syrup, you only have to heat it.

If a jar of maple syrup has been properly sealed, it’ll keep forever on your shelf. Open bottles should be kept in the refrigerator where they’ll last for months. If you ever find a little mold on your maple syrup, don’t throw it away. Just remove the mold, pour the syrup into a pot on the stove, and heat it up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature the syrup is heated to prior to bottling, so it’s hot enough to kill any bacteria. Pour it back in your bottle, stick it in the fridge, and you’re fine!

Grade A is not better than Grade B. It’s not worse either.

One of the biggest misconceptions around maple syrup grades — and the reason the grading and labeling system totally changed this year — is that Grade A maple syrup is somehow better (or worse) than Grade B, or that Grade B is better (or worse) than Grade A. Confused?

In fact, the two grades say nothing whatsoever about quality; it’s all about flavor. Grade A is lighter with a subtle maple flavor, while Grade B is darker with a more robust maple flavor.

But don’t get too caught up in the Grade A or Grade B thing, because those designations are going away. Starting this year, Vermont is using a new syrup grading system that’s meant to eliminate consumer confusion and align more closely with the labeling systems in other states. All of the syrup is now labeled Grade A, and there are new descriptors to help you understand color and flavor:

Fancy → is now → Golden with Delicate Taste

Grade A Medium Amber is now → Amber with Rich Taste

Grade A Dark Amber is now → Dark with Robust Taste

Grade B is now → Dark with Robust Taste

Grade C / Commerical is now → Very Dark With Strong Taste