One the most common questions we get asked is: What is Ontario food? With our new series, Made In Ontario, we’re spotlighting the treasures, tastes and traditions that make up our fledgling food culture.
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Volume VI : Birch Syrup
Birch syrup is one of the few tasty treats unique to the North. Though many people haven’t heard of it, it’s by no means new. Birch trees, like other hardwood trees, have long been tapped for their sugary sap. It is generally the yellow birch that is used for syrup production, although any birch tree will do.
When fresh, birch sap is a clear and uncoloured liquid, very similar to water, often slightly sweet with a slightly silky texture. It’s not until it is boiled down or evaporated that it becomes thick, sugary and amber in colour. You could say birch syrup is maple syrup’s overlooked kid sister: complicated, dark and sticky.
Birch syrup has long been a source of sugar for cooking, brewing and preserving — and it’s easy to see why! The flavor of birch syrup has a distinctive and mineral-rich caramel-like taste that is not unlike molasses with a hint of spice. Different types of birch will produce slightly different flavour profiles; some more copper, others with hints of honey. On things for sure, unlike it’s maple sourced cousin, Birch Syrup has a distinct savoury character.
Producer who does it right: Boreal Birch Syrup near Thunder Bay. Since 2006, Dave Challen and Beth Kuiper have been sustainably harvesting white birch sap for syrup production — they even got a Premier’s Agrifood Award for their efforts!
We really love it: Paired with cedar smoked anything or thrown into barbeque sauce like this delicious version from White Owl Bistro! We’re also totally loving it in birch beer or topped with soda.
What makes birch syrup so special?
In Northern Ontario where birch trees are plentiful and maples are small and scarce, it seems a better option. If you thought it took a lot of maple sap to make syrup, picture this. On average, 100 litres of birch sap are needed to make a single litre of birch syrup. The sap flow from birch is slower than maple too, making every drop more precious.