Untapped Potential

Michigan looks to sweeten its maple syrup output.



It's the sappiest story of the year. March in Michigan means maple syrup. It's usually the perfect time of the year to harvest the sap that eventually becomes the stuff pancakes dream of. If day temps are too high, sap rises to the top of trees and can't be tapped. If it's too cold, sap won't flow at all. Oh yeah, the nights need to be cold. If the weather isn't freezing at night, sap won't run at all.

Although Michigan ranks fifth in maple syrup production in the United States, advocates are looking to sweeten its position as a global player.

According to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, only about 1 percent of the state's maple forest resource is used in maple syrup production. So even though there are an estimated 500 commercial producers in the state, there is plenty of room for growth.

Another organization— the Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan — recently received a $10,000 grant from the state through its Strategic Growth Initiative to study the industry's potential. And Gov. Rick Snyder has pledged money to battle  a beetle that's destroying hardwoods in other states.

Here's a quick primer. Sap is collected from a sugar bush, an area of maple trees — Norway maple, hedge maple, black maple — and, the most popular by far, sugar maple. Once sap is harvested, it must be filtered and processed within a day or two. After that it sours and can't be made into syrup.

Collected sap is boiled down, fast and hard, until it becomes syrup. Since sap is 97 percent water, it takes a lot  — about 40 gallons — to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.

The quicker you boil the sap, the higher the quality of syrup. The first sap, from the beginning of the season, is considered best and labeled Grade A or Fancy. It's usually a light amber in color.

For more about Michigan maple syrup and the festivals and festivities surrounding the harvest, visit the MMSA's website at mi-maplesyrup.com.

You may even get to meet the 2014 Maple Queen.

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