The Syrup Secret

Marking Winter’s end
Rahman Mohamed
Updated April 8, 2017

SunThe start of Spring is often marked on March 20; it’s usually the time of the Spring Equinox; day and night are of equal length.  Because the Earth is tilted the length of all days and night aren’t the same year-round.  After the Spring Equinox the days get longer until the start of Summer on June 20, the Summer Solstice; the Summer Solstice is the day of the year the Earth sees the most sunlight.  After that the Earth sees less daylight.  On the Fall Equinox, September 22, day and night are again of equal length; Fall begins.  Nights then start to get longer until the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the least daylight, December 21 when Winter begins.  The dates of the solstices and equinoxes aren’t always the same but the season starts are.

Maple Syrup bottleSome mark the start of spring on March 20.  Others mark it on Nowruz, March 21.  In Canada Nowruz is celebrated but the start of Spring is more often marked by the maple harvest.

Many believe Canada only has two seasons but it does see all solstices and equinoxes.  To mark the start of spring and fall (the end of winter and the approaching winter) there are harvests.  The Fall Harvest includes wheat, potash, corn, and other common agriculture.  The Spring Harvest is start of the creation of maple syrup.  In Canada if you’ve never tasted maple syrup on pancakes you’re not Canadian.

When the Europeans first came to Canada they were shown how to take sap from trees and turn it into syrup.  It was harvesting the sap from the tree (liquid gold).  A small hole was drilled into the tree.  From there the sap, the fluid in the tree that circulates nutrients around the tree, was leaked out.  Today, to make sure tapping – taking the sap from the tree, is limited and doesn’t harm the tree a tree has to be old (a trunk with a minimum 20 cm diameter; circumference 60 cm).  For every extra 20 cm in diameter a tree can be tapped more than once but no tree can be tapped more than 3 times in one season.

Quebec is considered the centre of Canada’s maple syrup industry.  It has the most maple farms in the country.  In 2015 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada released an overview of the Canadian Maple Syrup Industry.  Although Ontario had 2,673 maple farms in 2011 it was behind Quebec by slim margin of just under 5,000 (Quebec had only 7,639 Maple Farms in 2011).  From the start of March the tapping begins.  Even though there’s still snow on the ground the Maple Harvest Festivals are in full swing.  Regular Canadians are invited to see and take part in tapping, enjoy nature, see wildlife that’s not behind cages and have fun with the old ways – riding wagons and seeing the wood homes.  They’re also served pancakes with maple syrup, a common Canadian breakfast.

On February 2 Canadians watch the groundhog wondering if he’ll see his shadow.  In some places the first Tuesday in February is more revered.  It’s Pancake Day.  Pancakes with maple syrup are served for breakfast in schools, homes and offices.

It’s a popular conversation topic too.  From the extreme changes in weather, from a warm day (+16°) to freezing night (-10° with a windchill of -25°) talk drifts to maple syrup.  Warm days shifting to cold nights is ideal for tapping.  It’s a common fact you learn at any maple harvest.

80% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada; in 2015 it exported $359,546,000 of maple products (maple sugar and syrup).  In 2015 Quebec alone produced over 8,000 gallons of maple syrup, over 90% of Canada’s total production, $338,976,000.  New Brunswick came in second, 430 gallons (4.83%) and Ontario a close third with 369 gallons (4.14%).

Recent research from McGill University has found that maple syrup could have an antibiotic effect.  By itself maple syrup has a weak antibiotic effect but when combined with common antibiotics (ex. over-the-counter cold medicine) they made the antibiotics stronger and more effective; just as maple syrup makes pancakes taste better antibiotics with maple syrup were able to fight a greater range of bacteria and work stronger and faster against bacteria.  Not yet ready for clinical trials syrup-biotics have the potential to reduce the amount of antibiotics people use.  CBC reported that it was found that 90% less antibiotics were used on insect testing; if same comes out in humans instead of using antibiotics for 10 days to treat a cold a person might only have to use them for 1 day.  All maple syrup was bought locally from Montreal, Quebec.  With the potential of use in antibiotics liquid gold in Canada could turn into the healthy gold.

The Canadian flag features the maple leaf.  The red leaf on the flag shows one from fall, one that might be so hard it might crumble in your hands.  It’s still a symbol of pride for all Canadians.  The Maple Tree hosts the Maple Leaf.  Maple Syrup comes from the Maple Tree.  Maple is loved by Canadians.

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