A lot of US states produce maple syrup; so many (and so much), in fact, that in 2022 alone, the US produced a whopping 5 million gallons of the sweet, caramel-like stuff. Vermont made the most maple syrup last year — 2,550,000 gallons, to be precise, which is more than half of the country’s total 2022 output. New York claimed the number two spot with 845,000 gallons produced, followed by Maine, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. One state that wasn’t in the top five is Pennsylvania, which produced 164,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2022, earning the state the number seven spot. (Pennsylvania’s producers say 2020’s warm temperatures slowed the flow of maple tree sap — causing a dip in syrup production.)
That hasn’t, however, stopped the “Keystone State” from celebrating its world-class maple syrup with events, festivals, and tastings all maple tapping season-long. And so, for both maple syrup-lovers and the curious-but-uninitiated, here’s the story behind PA maple syrup and some of the fun gatherings the state’s hosting from February to April. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.
How Maple Syrup is Made
The magic behind PA-produced maple syrup is the state’s sugar maple trees. These trees, which are abundant throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeastern United States, grow to an average 10 inches in diameter — which takes 20 to 40 years — before the maple syrup extracting process begins.
Every year, from mid-February to mid-April, maple producers (also called, “sugar makers”) extract tree sap using a process called tapping. This requires drilling a small hole into the tree trunk and inserting a spout to catch the sap. Sugar makers connect the spout to plastic pipes that extend through the woods or to a bucket for collecting the dripping sap.
To make pure maple syrup, sap is filtered and boiled to evaporate the water. The maple syrup is ready when its temperature reaches roughly 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit above water’s boiling point, after which, the syrup is filtered a second time (to remove excess minerals) then bottled. The final product is a sweet, full-bodied condiments that’s perfect for drizzling on pancakes, waffles, ice cream… or even roasted vegetables!
According to Kyle Dewees, president of the PA Maple Syrup Producers Council, maple syrup varies in color throughout the season. “The darker the syrup gets, the richer the maple flavor becomes,” he told WHTM-TV in January. “Lighter syrup is typically made earlier in our maple season, and then as [the season] goes on, it gets darker.” The flavor of maple syrup also depends on when the sap is extracted. Where light-colored maple syrups made from sap extracted early in the season have a mellow taste, darker syrups extracted later in the season — and thus made with older sap — have a stronger maple flavor.
Enjoying Your Syrup
Pure maple syrup contains about 12 grams of sugar, 50 calories per tablespoon, and minerals like zinc and iron, allowing you to enjoy it in moderate amounts without guilt. Additionally, pure maple syrup has a more concentrated flavor than its imitators — so a little goes a long way. According to the USDA, maple syrup can be stored in the pantry for up to one year before opening. Once opened, the USDA recommends storing pure maple syrup in the fridge where it will last for about a year. Mold appearing on your maple syrup is a sign that it’s gone bad and should be thrown away immediately.
Dewees says that PA-produced maple syrup is just as versatile as syrup made in other states. “We make maple cotton candy. We have maple suckers that are like maple lollipops. We do maple cream. It’s good for toast, muffins, and bagels,” he lists off. “Maple cream has nothing added to it, it’s just maple syrup that’s been reduced down. There’s also maple crumb sugar. You can make maple coated nuts, maple mustard, and maple salad dressings. There’s [also] maple hot sauce.” Clearly, the options are endless… as long as you like maple-flavored things.
Depending on its total content of solids (or sugar), PA maple syrup may actually taste better than syrups from other states. Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture regulates that the sugar solids content of its state-produced syrup be between 66 and 68.9 percent by weight. (The higher the sugar solids content, the thicker the texture and sweeter the taste.) For most Pennsylvania producers, including Triple Creek Maple Products, the sweet spot is 67 percent sugar solid content; this formula yields a rich syrup without the excess sugar crystals that collect at the bottom of the container in lesser-quality syrups.
3 Upcoming Maple Syrup-Centric Events in PA
Since maple syrup is one of Pennsylvania’s sweetest attraction, there are many events dedicated to it. Here’s a preview of the state’s upcoming maple-themed events — if you’ve got a sweet tooth (and don’t mind bundling up for some snowy weather), now is a great time for a visit.
- Maple Sugaring at Montour Preserve in Danville, PA (February 25): From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can learn about the history of maple sugaring while touring the sugar shack along Goose Woods Trail. This allow you to experience the tastes, sights, sounds, and smells of maple sugaring. Admission is free. Visit MontourPreserve.org for more details.
- Maple Sugar Day at Fox Chase Farm in Philadelphia, PA (March 4): Fox Chase Farm’s annual Maple Sugar Day features several events, from learning about the maple sugaring process to seeing how maple candy is made — plus plenty of pancakes with syrup to eat. Admission $5 per person. Visit this Eventbrite page for more information.
- Maple Weekend in Somerset, PA (March 11 to 12): This two-day event includes free tours around Somerset county and sample maple products. For more information, download the event brochure at SomersetCountyMaple.org.
Where to Buy PA-Produced Maple Syrup
If you’re unable to make the trek to Pennsylvania, don’t worry. You can enjoy PA’s syrupy goodness from the comfort of your own home by purchasing products at the below online shops:
- Nova Maple Bourbon Barrel-Aged Syrup (Buy from NovaMaple.com, starting at $22.99): Produced in northwest PA, Nova Maple Syrup is aged in reclaimed oak bourbon barrels – infusing the syrup with complex notes of smoke and oak. The syrup comes in three flavors —Scotch Bourbon, Apple Brandy Bourbon, and Whiskey Smoked Stout — and works well in both sweet and savory dishes.
- Loch’s PA Light Grade Maple Syrup (Buy from Linvilla.com, $10.99): Tapped early in the season, this syrup has a color color and delicate maple flavor that makes it ideal for eaters with diverse palates.
- Paul Family Farms Maple Syrup (Buy from PaulFamilyFarms.com, $14): This wood-fired maple syrup is made in small batches to preserve its quality and flavor. Add Mary Mac or CorEats Grain-Free Pancake Mix to your syrup order to make a complete breakfast.
The next time you’re looking for high-quality maple syrup, keep Pennsylvania top of mind. It’s sure to make your sweet breakfasts and savory dinners sing.