Cloudy sediment in non-filtered maple syrup.
Have you ever found sediment, grit, or even chunks of sugar in your finished pure maple syrup? Congratulations, you’ve now met sugar sand (aka niter) and you’ve earned your official sugarmaking badge! We’ve all dealt with niter in syrup at some point in our tapping days and the good news: It is perfectly edible, just not so appetizing.
So how to say goodbye to sugar sand? Fortunately, the solution is quick, simple, and inexpensive: Just run sap and syrup through a filter. This article will teach you how to get rid of almost all sugar sand in pure maple syrup and filtering easily fits into the boiling and canning process.
What is Sugar Sand in Maple Syrup?
Before we get started, let’s talk about how sugar sand is formed. Maple sap is really the tree’s food source made from lots of water, sugar, and other natural minerals. During boiling, you evaporate off the water and, with the sugar, those minerals become concentrated. Filtering removes the majority of these minerals to leave syrup clear.
Professional sugar shacks use more complicated systems of filtering than described in this article and most also use hydrometers to measure the exact sugar content of finished syrup. These steps are not necessary for the backyard sugarmaker and for this article we’ll cover a simpler, three-step process for filtering from collection to bottling.
An important note here: Use food-grade filters designed for sugarmaking! This is the last material to touch your syrup and you want to make sure the flavor is protected and no harmful chemicals are introduced. Filters are available at many home improvement stores or online from sugarmaking suppliers such as Maple Tapper — find filters here.
Maple Syrup Filtering Process
Sugarmakers need two types of filters during tapping season: a lightweight “prefilter” and a heavy duty “final filter” (these are sometimes made of wool, Orlon, or other heavy synthetic fabric). Filters are available in multiple sizes, but I’ve found a one-quart size filter is easier to handle and better for small home batches. These filters also fit perfectly in a traditional sieve stand so you don’t need two people to boil, filter, or bottle.
Before you get to pancakes, your syrup will be filtered three times. Each step is quick and only takes a few minutes.
A quick aside: If you’re making black walnut syrup, don’t use the thick filter. Walnut sap contains more pectin than maple sap, so it’s too thick to run through this type of filter. The lightweight prefilter will work but it may be necessary to rinse out partway through your batches.
As you collect sap – preferably daily – pour it through the thin prefilter. This will remove debris that has fallen into the sap. If you’re cooking that day, just pour the filtered sap into a pre-warmer then add to your boiling sap. Otherwise, keep the sap chilled (in the refrigerator or tucked into a shaded snowbank) until you’re ready to boil.
Almost-done syrup is filtered before the final boil.
This step is done midway through boiling when the sap gets to about 216 degrees Fahrenheit. This typically is when boiling sap is moved to a finishing pan.
Set up a filtering station near your cooking area with the sieve stand ready and the pans you’ll use for the final boil. Use only the lightweight prefilter for this step. The ones shown here have a pre-cut slit and we’ve just run a dowel through that slit and balanced it over the stand. Pour slowly and steadily (remember this is hot!) until all the sap has filtered through. Then put this pot back onto boil as we’ve described in previous articles.
When done, just rinse this filter with hot water, do not twist or wring out, and set aside for the next step. Do not use dish soap or detergents to clean filters as they can leave a residue which will affect the taste of syrup.
Finished syrup being poured through the final filters.
This is the last step and requires both filters. Using the same sieve stand, put the thicker filter in first and then nestle the prefilter inside it – both shown here have the pre-cut slits so we’ve balanced them with a dowel but you could also use clothespins to secure them to the stand.
We’ve talked in earlier articles about bottling so remember: clean, hot jars with no chipped rims; regular canning lids and rings; and use usual canning practices for bottling. Make sure your container can fit under the filter! We experimented a bit until we found soup cans worked perfectly for our one-pint jars.
Now you just need to wait for your syrup to hit the magic number of 219 degrees. Once that occurs, just slowly pour it through the two filters and let drain into jars. Fill each jar up to within ¼-inch of the rim, attach the lids and rings, and lay on their sides for 24 hours.
Clean Up after Maple Syrup Filtering
After each batch, simply rinse filters with hot water – no dish soap or detergents – and hang to dry until the next boiling. Do not wring or twist as this will break down the fibers and the filter will lose its shape. Most filters will last for many seasons when cared for properly.
If you’d like to see this all in action, we recorded our home sugaring filter set up last season – complete with dog running through the kitchen and soup can stands (a sugarmaker’s life, right?).
Most Common Questions
Yes, there may still be a tiny bit of cloudiness in the syrup. As we mentioned before, this is edible and all natural. If you allow the jar to sit, the sediment will sink to the bottom and then you can decant the top portion into another jar. Once you’ve unsealed it, though, it must be refrigerated.
And no, you can’t just reboil it to eliminate the niter. Each time you boil syrup, it will become a little bit more concentrated, so there will be a tiny bit more sugar sand. Every time you boil, you must filter.
Photos and video by Julie Fryer
Julie Fryer is a landscaper, gardener, and expert sugar-maker. She is the author of Guide to Maple Tapping, Kid’s Guide to Maple Tapping, The Complete Guide to Your New Root Cellar, and How to Open and Operate a Financially Successful Small Farm (all available on her Amazon page). Connect with Julie through her business, Maple Tapper, on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Read all of Julie's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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