Spicelight: Maple Sugar

Maple sugar is among the oldest agricultural products in North America. We owe the existence of this saccharine sap to the indigenous peoples who first created it. Nearly everywhere you find maple trees growing in the new world, you will find a history and culture of maple syrup and sugar.

Its flavor is rich, sweet, maple-woody, and often stronger than pure maple syrup. Maple sugar can be used as a replacement for refined cane sugar, but is much sweeter. It’s especially popular to use in desserts and baking, but also shines in more savory recipes, like barbecue sauce or baked salmon.

According to popular legend, an Iroquois woman was the first person to make maple syrup. Her husband, Chief Woksis, threw an axe at a maple tree one spring night. The next morning he removed it to go off hunting, leaving a notch of dripping maple sap. His wife later discovered this water collecting in a trough beneath the tree and used it to cook their dinner. The water thickened and sweetened, and thus the first maple syrup was created. Before European contact, Indigenous peoples of North America used maple sugar to season vegetables, cereals, and fish.

So what is the difference between maple sugar and maple syrup?

…Well, just a few hours really.

Left to right: maple sap, maple syrups, and maple sugar.

Maple sugar is dehydrated maple syrup. Once the water content has left the sap, the sugar begins to harden and form crystals. The chunks of sugar are broken up and sifted into a fine powder.

The tree tapping season is short and starts in early March, when the days are getting warm but the nights are still below freezing. Sugar content is highest at this time, but it still takes forty gallons of sap to produce one gallon of pure maple syrup.

In the earliest days of production, maple sap was collected in watertight birch bark containers. Stones were heated over a wood fire and put into the containers to heat the liquid, taking up to a week to form syrup. Metal pots and kettles eventually replaced these woven pots and streamlined the process.

The Spice House’s maple sugar is made from pure, evaporated maple syrup from northern Wisconsin.

Maple sugar is a fundamental ingredient in our immensely popular Gateway to the North Maple-Garlic seasoning. Fantastic on salmon and sweet potatoes, this blend is full of sweet and savory notes.

Baking is probably the most popular use for maple sugar. Cookies, cakes, and frosting all take on the flavor especially well. It’s delicious in tea and coffee too, and makes a great condiment when sprinkled over oatmeal, pancakes or toast. You can use it to glaze or encrust fish, pork chops, or ribs. Browse through all of our Maple Sugar Recipes here for more ideas.

If you have a tasty recipe that calls for maple sugar, we want to try it! You can share your recipes with us here, we might feature you in our next blog or email!

Special thanks to River Trail Nature Center for the photo opportunity.

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