Discover Which Tree Makes The Absolute Best Maple Syrup

maple syrup in glass bottle on wooden table
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Written by Telea Dodge

Published: November 4, 2023

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Maple syrup is widely thought of as one of the most delicious natural sugars that exist. Maple syrup is made by cooking the sap from maple trees down into a thick, sweet syrup. This syrup is used for a variety of purposes, from pancake topping to sugar substitute. You can use it as a topping and in your cooking and baking. You can even make it into candy or a fine sugar to use in similar ways. Today, we’ll be finding out which variety of maple tree produces the best sap for syrup. Let’s dig in to this sweet topic now!

What is a Maple Tree?

Pail used to collect sap of maple trees to produce maple syrup in Quebec.

Maple sap is collected from tapped trees and then cooked down into syrup.

©Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock.com

A maple tree is any tree or shrub in the genus Acer. This genus exists in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. Maple trees are native to Asia, Europe, northern Africa, and North America. Worldwide, there are about 132 species of maple trees, but most of them grow in Asia. There are 13 species of maple trees native to North America, and we’ve compiled them in a list below.

  • Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
  • Black maple (Acer nigrum)
  • Florida maple (Acer barbatum)
  • Vine maple (Acer circinatum)
  • Chalk maple (Acer leucoderme)
  • Silver Maple (Acer Saccharinum)
  • Boxelder (Acer negundo)
  • Mountain maple (Acer spicatum)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum)
  • Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
  • Canyon maple (Acer grandidentatum)
  • Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum)

You can collect sap from any of these 13 trees to make syrup, but not all sap is the same. For example, the box elder’s sap will yield a lighter and tangier syrup than some of its other relatives. It will also take a lot more sap to yield syrup. We’ll tell you why in a later section!

Which Tree Makes the Best Syrup?

sugar maple upward

Considered one of the tallest maple tree varieties, sugar maples are one of the main maple trees responsible for maple syrup.

©Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com

It is widely agreed that sugar maples yield the very best maple syrup. Cornell University has a program surrounding maple syrup production. The Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program offers information, research programs, and activities all surrounding sap collection and maple syrup production. They found that sugar maples produced the best sap for syrup based on one simple point of information: the sugar content of the sap.

Sugar maples have the highest sugar yield of all maple trees, with an average sugar content of 1.5-2 percent in concentration. Some sugar maples yield concentrations much higher than this. In March of 2015, many users of Maple Trader quoted their sap’s sugar concentrations at 3.7-5 percent. Other maple varieties have much lower sap concentrations, ranging from .25 to 1.5 percent. However, this is dependent on the season and climate.

What Impacts the Sweetness of Maple Sap?

Different colour variatons of maple syrup made by a backyard hobbyist in Springhill, Nova Scotia.

Color and grade variations in maple syrup are based on sugar content, what part of the sap season you’re in, and length of time the sap was boiled to yield the syrup.

©Cindy Creighton/Shutterstock.com

There are a number of factors that impact the sugar concentrations in maple sap. The Northeastern States Research Cooperative found that maple trees growing in areas with a higher soil nitrogen mineralization had a sweeter sap. They also found that a higher foliar nitrogen to phosphorus ratio impacted the sweetness of the sap.

The researchers found that some trees were genetically sweeter while others were influenced by environment. They were able to take cuttings of the high-producing trees and clone them with positive results. This indicates that some species and local families of maple trees naturally produce higher sugar sap contents.

The United States Forest Service states that weather also plays a role in sap production and sweetness. They found that warmer weather in the summer is directly linked to a decreased sugar content in the following sap season. This is due to the tree’s rate of respiration increasing to be faster than the tree’s rate of photosynthesis. This has a direct impact on the tree and its ability to store carbon. This is an important phenomenon to note when we talk about sap production and climate change.

What’s the Sugar Content of Maple Syrup?

In order for maple syrup to be a full syrup, it has to have a 66 percent sugar concentration. This is a much higher concentration than the sap that comes out of the trees. This highlights why maple trees with higher concentrations of sugar in their sap are the ideal trees to tap for syrup. Sap with higher sugar concentrations yields more syrup per gallon.

When is Sap Season?

Across North America, the best time to collect maple sap is in March. This may change with climate change, and 2023 saw an early start to their sap season. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, sap runs best in daytime temperatures that range from the high 30s to the mid-40s. It is also imperative that nighttime temperatures drop below freezing every night of the season.

The Minnesota DNR says that sap can flow as early as January and as late as May. The ideal window seems to be March 15th through April 20th in Minnesota.

Who Produces the Most Maple Syrup?

Vermont

Maple syrup farm in Vermont. Vermont is the number one producer of maple syrup in the United States.

©stu99/iStock via Getty Images

Canada is the world leader in maple syrup production, accounting for about 71 percent of all maple syrup produced in the world. The province of Quebec is responsible for the largest portion of this production, and exceeds 6.5 million gallons a year in product. Future Generations University states that more than ten million gallons of maple syrup are produced in Canada annually. In the United States, Vermont is the leader in maple syrup production, and St. Albans, Vermont is touted as the “Maple Syrup Capital of the United States”. Vermont consistently produces more maple syrup than any other state in the United States, yielding upwards of half a million gallons per year.

Other great places to get maple syrup are New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan. We’ve included a table of the top seven syrup producing states in the United States and their average yields (in gallons) per year.

StateProduction (In Gallons)
Vermont2.07 million
New York820,000
Maine580,000
Wisconsin270,000
Michigan195,000
Pennsylvania157,000
New Hampshire148,000


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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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