Maple syrup is famous for its versatile uses, especially in the kitchen. From its classic pairing with pancakes to its ability to add a sweet tinge to cocktails or homemade condiments.
Japanese maple syrup is feasible to collect as sap from large enough trees. These trees give fractions of the amount of sap as other variations of maples. There is also less sugar content in the sap. Due to the amount of work and low yield, most farmers will not produce Japanese maple syrup.
But is all maple syrup the same? Which sub-species of maple trees produce safe syrup? Are there any other kinds of trees that produce edible syrup? More specifically, can you get and eat syrup from a Japanese maple? Let’s find out!
Is Japanese Maple Syrup And Sap Edible?
These ornamental trees are renowned from their deep hues nearly year round found in their leaves. They are usually found at the edges of lawns at the beginning of tree lines or as focal points in flower beds and round structures. Heck, I have one in the flower bed in front of my house. But what about the sap and syrup? Is it edible like other maples?
Japanese maple sap and syrup is in fact edible and non-toxic. The difference most will immediately notice though is the lower sugar content found in the sap of this particular species of maple. The sugar maple is what most people recognize as having the quintessential maple syrup taste.
The relatively small size of these trees in comparison with other variations of maples is also a consideration. Even if the taste and quality would be the same or at least acceptable, the quantity would be the next problem.
These and other reasons are why we don’t see Japanese maple syrup lining our local supermarket or farm fresh stores. The lack of sugary taste and cost effective quantities make it hard to justify the effort for farmers and gardeners alike.
Why Do People Like Maple Syrup?
Maple syrup is one of the most popular food additives in North America for several reasons.
Maple syrup is one of nature’s best sweeteners. As a result, it is used to add some sweetness to various foods and drinks. Pancakes and maple syrup is a classic breakfast duo, as we all know. However, people who just want to feel the sugary goodness may also consume maple syrup by itself.
Another (and more important) reason for including maple syrup in your diet is the extensive range of health and lifestyle benefits of doing so.
For starters, organic maple syrup is richer in antioxidants than equivalent volumes of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Compared to refined sugar products, maple syrup also poses a reduced risk of instigating glycemic problems such as diabetes.
Studies have revealed that eating maple syrup leads to less pronounced sugar spikes and crashes, which decreases the chances of reduced insulin response. Maple syrup is also easier on your gut than conventional sugar products because it is easier to digest.
If you suffer from inflammatory diseases like arthritis, you might want to switch to maple syrup because of its polyphenol antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory properties. Also, preliminary studies indicate that replacing refined sugar and artificial sweeteners with maple syrup might reduce the risk of developing various forms of cancer.
Maple syrup is also a rich source of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Elements like zinc, which helps increase white blood cell count, are just a few of the immunity-boosting minerals found in the syrup. As a result, maple syrup is also a great aid to most forms of medication, especially antibiotics.
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Can You Eat Maple Syrup Directly From The Tree?
So, can the sweetness and health benefits of maple syrup be accessed by directly consuming maple syrup from a tree?
Maple trees produce maple sap, an extract that is made up of water, sugar, enzymes, and antioxidants. The process of converting the sap to maple syrup is pretty simple, but it needs to be processed in order for it to be consumed and recognized as the same syrup seen on grocery store shelves.
Well, we first need to establish that maple “syrup” is processed. It doesn’t just come out of a tree as the pancake-ready condiment we all love.
While producing maple syrup involves following a series of steps, it is important to state that raw maple sap is also safe for human consumption. In fact, raw maple sap has many of the same health benefits as maple syrup. Unfortunately, because of its high water content, maple sap isn’t nearly as sweet as the final syrup.
Raw maple sap may contain a few impurities though. However, these are not toxic or harmful.
How Would You Get The Sap From A Japanese Maple?
Now that we know that it wouldn’t be the best idea to eat the sap directly from the tree, though it could feasibly be done, let’s look at what it would take to get syrup from a maple.
You first start by picking out a maple tree to “tap”. Tapping is essentially boring a hole through a tree’s trunk and inserting a tap (aka spile) into this hole so the sap from the tree’s transport tube pours out and into a collection container.
Most major species of maple can be tapped. However, the most commonly used tree is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) which has the highest sugar concentration in its sap. You can also use the sap from red maple and black maple trees.
The Japanese maple tree (Acer palmatum) can also be tapped for sap. However, you will probably need to tap a whole lot of them to get even the smallest amount of syrup. Japanese maple trees release very little quantities of sap. Additionally, this sap also has very low levels of sugar concentration.
How To Process Japanese Maple Syrup
Now that you have your hard earned Japanese maple sap, it is time to turn it into actual syrup.
Once you’ve tapped your tree of choice, you should collect a few gallons of sap before going on to boil it. This is because, on average, it takes about 35-40 gallons of raw sap to produce a single gallon of syrup. It is then boiled to reduce the water content and concentrate the sugars.
The boiling process is meant for removing the water content from the sap. Professional-grade maple syrup producers make use of large metallic vats known as “sugar shacks” that are placed atop a fire. The boiling process is also carried out inside rooms or factories with high ceilings or even outside because the sap releases very high quantities of steam.
If you’re going down the DIY route, you should use an outdoor propane skillet rather than a conventional kitchen stove because you might damage your ceilings with steam. A conventional stove also increases the risk of burning the syrup and your pots.
As the water evaporates, the sugar and other material in the sap are left behind and caramelize into a recognizable paste. A quick taste test will reveal that the substance in question is indeed maple syrup.
Why Do We Only Eat Syrup From Maple Trees?
There are a few key reasons why we only use raw maple sap for creating syrups.
- The first reason is the non-toxicity of maple sap. Many plant species may look nice and give off sweet aromas during flowering season, but their sap may also contain traces of elements that could make a person seriously ill or even die if consumed.
- The second reason is the quantity of sap maple trees produce. Maple trees such as the sugar maple are capable of releasing up to 3 gallons of raw sap per day. Other plant species may not have such quantities to begin with or they may have defense mechanisms (such as quick self-healing) that make tapping inefficient.
- The third reason is the sugar and nutritional content of maple sap. While other plant species do have sugar and nutrients and sap, the quantities present in maple sap are high enough to make the extraction and boiling process cost-effective.
Remember, it takes a LOT of raw sap to produce small quantities of syrup. Maple trees produce more nutrient-rich sap than any other plant class.
The Final Touches On Japanese Maple Syrup…
The quick answer is yes, you can make syrup from a Japanese maple tree. But the truth of the matter is, it will take so many trees and tons of hours trying to get an inferior sap to make syrup.
The normal process is done on sugar maples and select other maple variations. Just keep in mind that it takes quite a bit of sap to get enough to make a normal amount of syrup.
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