History of Maple Syrup – The History of a Sweet Treat

The history of maple syrup is both interesting and informative, providing many facts concerning the sociology of early North America. The first people known to have manufactured maple syrup are the Native Americans living in the northeast part of North America, a long time before the arrival of the first Europeans.  Using an early method of tapping the sweet sap of the maple trees, these early tribes rendered the juice into a source of high-calorie winter food.  The Native Americans were generous with their technology, showing the first European colonies how to extract the syrup from the trees.

 The Europeans were quick studies, introducing their knowledge of metallurgy, storage, and transportation into the process. Their new knowledge became part of the history of maple syrup.  The harvested sap was taken to a “sugar shack,” where it could easily be stored in river-cooled buildings. The sap had to be rendered down in a tedious process by being boiled in large cauldrons.  The sap had to be stirred often to prevent crystallization.  By the 1800’s, the process had been refined and made more efficient.  “Country Sugar,” as the maple sweetener was called, was the most common sugar available in North America for quite some time.

Various pumps and dehumidifiers were introduced into the process by the enterprising Americans (another technological addition to the history of maple sugar) but the rendering process remained slow and expensive.  The U.S. started to import maple syrup from Canada, particularly from Quebec, a cold area known for its wealth of sugar maple trees, and has been doing so ever since.

In the United States, maple syrup is still a small industry in New England states, most notably in Vermont, and on a smaller scale, Maine and various other states.  In America, Canada, and Europe, syrups are broken down into “grades.”  The grading system is slightly complicated.  It is judged on color, sugar content, and time of harvesting.  Read our Maple Syrup Grading Article for more about maple syrup grading.  A continuing examination of the history of maple syrup reveals that in the Civil War, most Union households used maple sweetener to boycott cane sugar, which was primarily produced by slaves. Today, maple syrups is a favorite for a variety of dishes throughout the country.  It is a perennial favorite for breakfast goodies such as pancakes, waffles, and French toast.  It can also be used for cooking, replacing sugar as maple syrup health benefits are greater than brown or white sugar.  Maple syrup is also used widely in vegan and vegetarians cooking. 

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