Tree Syrup

Syrups of different sorts are found all around us in nature, notably in the form of tree saps, which human beings around the world have harvested for eons. Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere automatically think “maple” when we consider tree syrups, but in reality there are many other types of sap-giving trees. Birch trees, for example, which Alaskans and Scandinavians have long tapped for their sweet nectar. Hickory and elm trees also contain sap, though it’s less sweet and delivered in smaller quantities, so it takes more time and work to collect it and reduce it down to a syrup.

But you don’t have to live in northern, temperate climates to have access to tappable trees. The Asian sugar palm, for example, not only contains more sap than a typical maple tree, its sap contains up to five times as much sugar (sucrose). Add to that the fact that it can be tapped for fully half the year, not just during a six-week early spring “sap run”, and you’ve got a seriously high-producing sugar tree. Some Asian palms are capable of delivering 20 or more liters of their super-sugary sap in a single day. Compare that to even the highest producing maple tree, which can at best yield eight.

Other sugar-producing tropical trees include oil palms, date palms, sago palms and coconut palms. All produce more sugar and in greater quantities than maple trees. Where can you find these syrups? Usually in health food stores where they’ll labeled as “palm honey.”

UPDATE: Reader Erbie asks:

How dense is maple syrup?

The answer is that tree syrups are between 25% and 35% water, though more water is common since very dry maple syrup crystallizes easily due to all the sucrose it contains (all those identical little molecules want to stack up when they get too close to one another). As a general rule, you can assume a typical maple syrup is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, making it the heaviest syrup we’ve discussed so far.

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