Strains of syrup

Birch syrup is a cousin of maple syrup and is usually derived from white or yellow birch. Pexels

Dear Aggie: A friend gave me some birch syrup. Is it similar to maple syrup?

Birch syrup is a cousin of maple syrup and is usually derived from white or yellow birch. Most trees have a sweet sap that can be made into syrup. Maple syrup is the most common because of its flavor, the abundance of sugar maple trees, and because the sap has a higher sugar content than other species. Therefore, less sap needs to be boiled down to create syrup.

Birch trees are tapped and the sap is collected in the same way maple sap is collected. Since birch sap is not as sweet it takes about 70 gallons to make one gallon of syrup. About 35 gallons of maple sap will yield one gallon of syrup. As a result, birch syrup is less common since more time and energy are needed to boil down the sap. The flavor is often described as similar to caramel, honey, or molasses with a spicy and acidic aftertaste.

Syrup can also be made from several other native tree species. Recently there has been increased experimentation and demand for syrup flavors beyond maple. Black walnut syrup is becoming more common. The flavor is nutty, rich, and somewhat bitter. Maple-walnut syrups are very popular. Butternut sap has about the same sugar concentration as maple sap. The syrup has a nutty taste with fruity overtones.

Beech syrup has a dark caramel-raisin flavor and makes a good substitute for molasses. Sycamore sap boils down to a light-yellow color and has the flavor of butterscotch. Other species that are suitable for tapping include basswood, alder, and ironwood. Keep in mind that beyond maple, walnut, and butternut, the other species have a lower sugar content in their sap. Much more sap must be collected and boiled to make syrup.

Other tree syrups that are not derived from sap include pine syrup which is made from the young, tender needles at the tip of branches. Collected in the spring, the tips are steeped in a sugar solution; the resulting liquid is then strained and commonly used in cocktails.

Shagbark hickory syrup is made from bark. If you are familiar with shagbark hickory the bark is shed in long plates. These are collected, cleaned, and roasted; a tea is then extracted. Since the bark contains no sugar, the tea is mixed with a simple sugar solution to create a smoky-flavored syrup.

Written by Sue Gwise, horticulture educator.

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