Alaskan Birch Syrup
In Alaska, where Birch trees are plentiful and maples scarce, the sweet and creamy confection that is syrup, originates from the Birch tree. Birch trees, like many northern hardwoods, have long been tapped for their sugary, invigorating sap, but in the contiguous 48 states, Maple trees’ high sugar content, generous sap flow and mellow flavor made maple, rather than birch, the premier North American sugar tree.
Sugar shortages, in the mid 1900’s, pushed Alaskans to try other sources of sweetness and by using modified steam boilers, which were left from earlier mining operations, they boiled Birch sap down into syrup. Making Birch Syrup is a time-demanding effort and today few producers take up this challenge, keeping Alaskan Birch Syrup operations small and discouraging all but the most obstinate Alaskans. It is estimated that the total commercial production of Alaskan Birch Syrup in 2004 worldwide was less than 1,500 gallons.
Birch Syrup ranges in color from light amber to dark reddish-brown, depending on the season of harvest. The lighter syrups are generally products of the earlier part of the season and are more subtle in flavor. Early season syrups accompany pancakes, waffles or crepes. Darker syrups, from later in the season, are more full-bodied and potent. These syrups are used as a spice to flavor different foods, both savory and sweet. Both varieties of Birch Syrup have bold, piquant flavors similar to sorghum or horehound candy. In Alaska, Birch Syrup is used in marinades, barbeque sauces, baked beans, coffee, breads, sodas and ice cream. The Birch Syrup tapping method removes 10-15% of the total sap production of the tree so that Birch trees survive from year to year, making this syrup a truly sustainable sugar substitute.
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