Maple Syrup is Great, But How About Sap?

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Tompkins Weekly 2-24-14

By Steve Gabriel

Living in the Finger Lakes, the change from winter to spring is often quite dramatic and enthusiastically welcomed by residents who are sometimes a bit weary after months of bundling up, scraping car windows, and shoveling sidewalks. While the signs of the seasonal change can come in many forms, perhaps there is no better pulse than the process of maple sugaring, which quite literally ebbs and flows based on the changing of temperate. Warm days above freezing coupled with colder nights below 32 degrees F mean the sap is flowing – and spring is coming.

Tapping trees is a project that is relatively easy and inexpensive to get into. All one needs is a few sugar maple trees, a drill, a spout, and some sort of collection vessel. On a good year, it can be expected that a tree 12″ in diameter or more will produce somewhere in the range of 8 – 10 gallons of sap. At a ratio of 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, this means that 5 or 6 trees could theoretically yield about a gallon of syrup, per season. But in many cases the amount of time required to boil sap into syrup makes this process impractical for the homeowner, on a small scale. Thus many people do not tap trees, choosing instead to support a local sugarmaker for syrup.

One thing that anyone with a few healthy sugar maples should consider is tapping for the sap alone, offers a chance to connect to the seasonal change of nature as well as enjoy some potential health benefits. In fact, tapping trees and just drinking the sap may be one of the easiest and most nutritious things to do locally this time of year – especially in your own backyard.

Maple sap, along with other tree saps, has long been viewed as a spring tonic by many cultures around the globe. It is usually about 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar, but little known is that it is also loaded with minerals, nutrients, enzymes, antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and more. In Korea specifically, there is a long history of sap consumption and most comes from the Acer mono, a maple which is called gorosoe, meaning “the tree that is good for the bones” in Korean. This is likely due to the high mineral content in sap, most notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

There are even places in Korea where people can take weekend retreats, visiting the mountains and consuming as much as 5 gallons of sap per day while sitting on heated floors with conditions similar to a sauna. The idea is to detox the bad stuff and unclog the body from a long winter. In Korean markets, Maple Sap usually sells for $5 – 10/gallon.

Most analysis for health benefits of sap has been done on the basic content, which has over 50 vitamins and minerals, and also a number of probiotics similar to those found in yogurts and other dairy products. More research would be useful, but it’s hard to argue against the idea of drinking sap as a healthy and good option for the springtime; after all, it is water filtered in a tree and loaded with a bunch of nutritional compounds. It may well be the cleanest water some people will ever drink.

If you are interested in collecting and enjoying sap, its important to note that while sap is essentially sterile when inside the tree, it can quickly become contaminated. The choice of container for collection is thus very important. Maple buckets and jugs (a milk jug can make a great collection vessel) should be thoroughly cleaned before use. The best sap runs during the beginning and middle of the season, but as the temperature warms toward the end of March and into April it’s best to stop drinking it straight. Sap can be stored in the fridge (or outside if below freezing) for several days and should generally be treated like milk; best consumed within one week of it coming from the tree. And while some of the good bacteria may be killed, to be extra safe some choose to boil the sap to effectively pasteurize it and render it completely safe.

Sap can be drank straight from the tree of course, but can also be used to make a wonderful carbonated beverage with a home soda-maker. Simply replace the water with sap, adding as much or as little carbonation as you’d like. It can also be utilized for cooking in soup, stews, and other recipes that call for water. It also makes a wonderful base for brewing beers.

The straight consumption of sap is an excellent option for people who want to tap some trees but aren’t interested in the time, labor, and fuel to boil it into syrup. It offers an opportunity to harvest the fruits of a long winter and connect to the cycles of the season. While the entire process of making syrup takes considerable energy, sap is just the opposite – it is really simple and takes very little time to tap, collect, and consume sap in a variety of ways.

Steve Gabriel is a local educator, author, and farmer living in Mecklenburg, where he taps about 80 trees each year. More info is available at


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