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Purifying Maple: This week on New York NOW

maple tree with plastic tap and tube
Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail

Story begins at 15:47

Maple syrup and pancakes go hand in hand on the average breakfast table. People slather their pancakes with butter and then just pour the syrup on top but here at Madava Farms in rural Dutchess County, the people at Crown Maple are hoping to change the way we think about this all natural sweetener while providing the purest product possible.

Madava Farms COO, Tyge Rugenstein,

“Maple is a beautiful product. It tastes great, it looks great and we just want to elevate it in the commercial world.”

Walking into Madava Farms main sugar house is a lot like walking into a winery. No aesthetic detail is over looked and visitors are encouraged to tour the facilities shiny apparatus’ that bring an ancient treat to life.

“To have a high quality maple syrup, you wanna process the sap as quickly as possible. Sap has sugar in it so obviously there’s natural bacteria and yeast that want to interact on that syrup or on the sap and if you let the sap sit around for a long time, you’ll start getting a degrade in the quality and the flavor of the ultimate product.”

Purity is the name of the game for Madava Farms. Tyge Rugenstein serves as the company’s Chief Operating Officer and believe they can dominate the ‘pure maple’ market with its luxury brand of syrup.

“Folks are realizing it’s a great natural sweetener, both in the liquid form and the granulated form. And again it’s not refined, it’s not processed so it’s still in a natural 100% maple sugar and it works well in culinary applications.”

To experiment with maple flavors, Madava Farms has two chefs on staff, one whose sole job is to experiment with it, in everything from salad dressings to meat glazes.

Maple syrup as a luxury item may sound a bit ridiculous as the product has been consumed since Native Americans began boiling sap long before the first Europeans arrived. However what most American’s recognize as maple or pancake syrup at the grocery store has evolved over the years. 

According to Mike Farrell, a researcher with Cornell University’s Uihlein Forrest, a sugar and maple research division, most table or pancake syrup is artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup.

“It’s a declining market for pancake syrup in general. People aren’t sitting down to a pancake breakfast like they used to and so sales for pancake syrup are down but people are finding other uses for pure maple.”

Geographical coincidence puts the state square in the center of the north east maple forest, giving it the largest number of tappable trees.

Madava Farms is hardly alone. The New York State Maple Sugar Producers Association boasts nearly 600 members, making New York the second largest producer in the country behind maple powerhouse Vermont and third behind internationally known maple producer, Canada.

To make New York maple a major player in the national and international markets, Senator Chuck Schumer included the Maple Tap Act to the Federal Farm Bill, providing USDA grants of up to 20-million dollars for producers and land owners to tap more trees and increase production.

So far New York only accounts for less than 5-percent of the world’s syrup, with New York City as one of its biggest markets.

To get just one gallon of maple syrup, producers need to process about 40 to 50 gallons of sap, and that is where Rugenstein says Madava Farms and Crown Maple stand apart.

“We’re maintaining a control from a single source and maintaining that quality from the tree to the bottle to the retail space.”

The company has 20-thousand taps on trees spread out around its 800 acre property with another 30-thousand taps coming from a satellite property in the nearby village of Brewster.

Trees are tapped with a plastic spout and instead of collected in a bucket, sap is ‘piped’ through a network of plastic tubes by way of gravity and vacuum pumps to the sugar house for processing.

Sap is first delivered to one of the four, 93-hundred gallon tanks, which Rugenstein says can all be filled at the height of the season. Sap straight from the tree has only 2-percent sugar and to be considered maple syrup has to be raised to 66 to 68-percent. But first the Madava Farms ‘cleans’ the sap of anything that could give it a cloudy appearance or an off taste.

“It looks impressive; it looks like the technology is high end. But the actual science behind it is relatively simple. You have a very tight membrane and you’re gonna use high pressure and you’re gonna push the sap through vessel and the membrane is tight enough that H2O molecules can get through the membrane but the sucrose and the maple concentrate will stay on the near side. So you’re just gonna push the water out.”

Madava Farm’s filtration process also includes a dissolved air flotation system or DAF.

“That’s the total filtration process is literally just getting air to clean out any particulates that’s in the sap itself.

‘Now I heard that this is actually something that it typically used for water filtration?’

Yes there’s other industries that are using the DAF technology. We’re the only ones in the maple industry using it.”

Once the sap is thoroughly cleaned, it’s heated in the evaporator, and filtered one last time before getting stored in barrels, ready to be bottled.

Their entire harvest is collected between late February and early April as the spring thaw allows sap to run from the trees roots up to its branches for nutritional needs, until the leaves come out and photosynthesis takes over.

As New York continues to position itself as a major maple producer, the candy coated market for this alternative sweetener continues its slow but steady saturation of the market.

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