What are the best options for homemade syrups and natural sweeteners from plants I can grow or process myself?
Depending on your region, your choices for homemade syrups and sweeteners may include tree syrup, sorghum syrup (molasses), sugar beet syrup or paste, stevia, and sugar cane.
Two popular homegrown sweeteners are tree syrups and sorghum molasses. Syrup-seekers living in cold climates often opt for sugar maple or black maple trees because they yield a high volume and concentration of sap that’s about 2 percent sugar. Making 1 gallon of maple syrup requires boiling down 40 to 50 gallons of sugar or black maple sap. Because red and silver maples produce a more watery sap, syrup-makers must collect and boil more of it to produce the same amount of syrup.
Other tap-ready trees include boxelder (a maple relative), birch, walnut, hickory and sycamore, but the cost and time commitment of making syrups from these trees can be prohibitive. Birch syrup necessitates twice as much sap as maple syrup does — up to 100 gallons of birch sap to yield 1 gallon of a more savory-tasting syrup.
In warmer climates, sorghum syrup is most common. Making sorghum syrup requires an upfront cost for a press to crush the sorghum canes and extract the juice, but it can yield a sweet payoff — 1 gallon of sorghum syrup requires boiling down only 10 gallons of juice. You can go in on the price of the press with your neighbors as a way of cutting costs and achieving community self-sufficiency. Dig into more info on maple sugaring and tree tapping at Farming Syrup Trees: Maple Sugaring and More, and in Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel.
Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.