Birch Syrup is a truly unique flavor from Alaska's forests - and quite rare. Total 2004 commercial production in Alaska and - as far as we know - in the world was less than 1500 gallons! At this time there is little commercial production of birch syrup anywhere else in the world.
Alaska's vast mid latitudes are carpeted with mixed birch/spruce - or "boreal" forests, ideal for sustainable syrup production; at present a little "tapped" resource.
Birch syrup in Alaska is produced by collecting the sap from the paper birch and evaporating it to syrup. It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup. Maple syrup, by comparison, averages 40:1. The sap, containing only 1-1.5% sugar, looks and tastes much like water right out of the tree. Concentrating the sugar to 67% by evaporation gives the syrup its color and distinctive flavor.
The predominant, naturally occurring sugar in birch syrup is fructose, as opposed to maple which contains primarily sucrose. Fructose, due to its chemical structure, is more easily digested and assimilated by the human body. Fructose has the lowest glycemic index of all sugars and can therefore be the most suitable sugar for use, in small quantity, by diabetics. Birch syrup is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamin, and calcium.
The time to tap Alaska paper birch is when the sap rises in early April. The season will last 2-3 weeks, until the trees bud. Production will vary from season to season. In 2004 each tree produced approximately 3/4 gallon of sap/tree/day. We tapped 2400 trees, collected 43,500 gallons of sap and produced a total of 450 gallons of pure birch syrup.
Tapping the trees does not injure them as it will take only 10-15% of the total sap production of the tree. One tap per tree limit; and each tree is given a two year rest between tapings. Each 7/16" hole is plugged at the end of the season to prevent injury to the tree. We love our birch trees!
To produce a higher quality syrup and save on time and fuel, we run our sap through a reverse osmosis machine which removes 70% of the water before evaporation begins. This concentrates the sugar to approximately 5%. Concentration to 67% sugar is completed in a wood-fired evaporator.
Birch syrup is distinctive in flavor and versatile. It has a rich, spicy-sweet flavor that reminds people of flavors from their past -sorghum, horehound candy, different varieties of honey. Birch syrup is a versatile and delicious sweetener that blends well with other flavors in a wide variety of recipes including marinades, barbecue sauces, and dressings, birch granola, baked beans, coffee, baked squash, baked goods, breads, milkshakes, natural sodas and ice cream.
Birch syrup is an exciting, unique, and new flavor for use by chefs in fine gourmet cooking. It's range of uses is demonstrated by the chef at Anchorage's four star Marx Bros. Café, who uses our birch syrup to glaze duck and for his specialty - birch butter pecan ice ream over fresh berry crisp. One of North America's farthest north brew pubs, The Great Bear Brewing Company, in Wasilla, Alaska brews a wonderful birch cream soda and birch root beer using Kahiltna Gold birch syrup.