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Many people give a similar reaction when I say I moved my Maple taps to Birch trees. A reaction of… disbelief followed by, “I had NO idea you could tap a birch tree!”
Yup. You can.
If you have not heard how I got into tapping Birch Trees – go ahead and read it on the intro to my Maple Tapping post. Trust me, you’ll laugh at me.
I will be the first to say – I can see why Birch Syrup is much more uncommon. It is vastly different than Maple – more tedious, time consuming and not as delicious as Maple. Tapping and boiling Birch is harder to fall in love with than Maple.
Here is how Birch Tapping and Maple Tapping are different:
- Collecting Birch Sap is not like Maple Sap. Maple trees produce 1/2-1 gallon of sap a day (at least mine do). The Birch trees easily produce 1-2 gallons a day. Even though they produce twice as much, you need over twice as much to get syrup. The trade-off is fair.
- The taste of Birch Syrup is not like Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup is delectable and sweet, and you could drink a gallon of it. Birch syrup is not quite savory, but definitely a strong flavor – like a woodsy molasses.
- Boiling down Birch Syrup is not like Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup is boiled hard and fast. Get the fire roaring and the pan in the flame. Birch Syrup is low and slow. The temperature cannot go over 200°F and it is best if the heat is more indirect. It is a quite tedious project.
So, yes… you can use the same materials to tap the birch trees – spiles, hose, buckets, boiling set-up. The process and outcome is wildly different.
Like the syruping process – I fell for Maple tapping hard and fast. The Birch process is a low and slow kind of love. That’s okay. Variety can keeps us balanced.
So why tap Birch?
Well… because I said so (do I sound like your mom yet?).
But Really... Why Tap Birch Trees?
As I stated – tapping Birch trees is more of an experience than a process. You have to fully immerse yourself into the process to get it right. Tapping Birch Trees can deter some people, but these are the reasons I enjoy it:
- There are a lot of health benefits to Birch Sap/Syrup. I mean a LOT. We will get to that later.
- Birch Sap/Syrup has a unique flavor – one I am determined to find a kick-ass recipe for and exploit it to the world. You’re welcome.
- The transition from Maple to Birch is quite seamless. With a quick sanitization from one tree to the next – you can quite literally pull from one tree and plug into the next.
- It’s a challenge. Some people do not like a challenge – I am not one of those people. When I am posed a problem, I am determined to find a solution. Thinking outside the box is enjoyable and since there isn’t much on the internet, it is fun to create original solutions.
- It’s different. Who doesn’t enjoy being a little different? Some people dye their hair to stand out, I tap Birch trees. To each their own. It is a conversation starter.
But, Does it Damage the Tree?
Another huge question I get when it comes to tapping trees is – ‘does it hurt the tree?’ I always answered ‘no’ because that is what everyone else said.
You only tap into the ‘sapwood’ and it does not hurt the core of the tree. The tree will heal itself. This is all what i was told/what I read. I fully trusted my sources, but until I saw the proof, I couldn’t be 100%. Seeing IS believing, right?
This was my second year tapping Birch Trees. While drilling my taps for the second year, I looked for the taps of my first year. When I saw the healed would, my jaw dropped. You can see it in the pic above.
The tree healed itself. Wood had filled in the hole to protect the tree from further damage.
My words hold experienced knowledge now.
It is said that Birch Sap has similar benefits to coconut water – with a bigger health punch. The flavor of Birch Sap is similar to water, with a more woodsy flavor.
Xylitol – this natural sugar can help prevent cavities, does not heighten insulin levels, and has a much lower calorie count than table sugar. Xylitol also is known to lower yeast and ear infections. Xylitol can also raise collagen levels, improving skin quality and elasticity.
Diuretic – this means it flushes the system. Diuretics can help reduce cellulite (by flushing water), flush toxins and uric acid. Flushing the system can also benefit the liver. Aiding the liver in eliminating toxins in the body can improve the function of the liver. Another organ that cleanses the system are the kidneys. Guess what that means? Yup, Birch Sap helps the kidneys as well. Keep in mind that diuretics should be taken in moderation.
Saponin – some experts believe that saponin lowers blood-cholesterol by effectively binding to the cholesterol and excreting it effectively (vs. allowing it to be reabsorbed into the body). Saponins can kill disease causing bacteria, inhibit tumor growth, and possibly improve lipid metabolism.
Birch sap is also said to boost immunity, fight fatigue, treat arthritis/joint pain, decrease cavities, and aid in digestive and organ health.
My research is based on The Medical Daily, Healthline, SF Gate websites.
Transitioning from Maple to Birch is actually quite easy with a few simple preparation steps.
- Take a 5-gallon bucket and fill it with HOT water and vinegar or peroxide.
- Fill a Mason Jar with HOT water and vinegar or peroxide.
- Pluck the spiles from the tree, drop them into the Mason Jar.
- Pull the tube and immerse it in the water-solution in the bucket. Make sure the tube fills with liquid.
Repeat this process with all of the trees. This will ensure that the spiles and tubing get sanitized properly.
Once you have collected all of your taps you are ready to tap the Birch!
I hate to keep repeating this because I hate to deter people from tapping Birch Trees – but processing Birch Sap is challenging.
- There is MUCH more sap to collect, the boil is slow so it can be hard to keep up boiling down.
- The sap has a different type of sugar that burns quite easily. Direct flame can be damaging and make a burnt tasting syrup – ICK!
- The sap goes rancid MUCH faster than Maple Sap. 3 days TOPS and it is bad.
It is a trifecta storm. You drown in sap that you have to boil super slow so you get backed up with sap and then you have to store the sap in such a way it does not go bad.
Here is how I cope:
- I collect every-other day. That way I do not stress about the buckets of sap collecting in my yard or patio. Plus the woods are more shaded than my yard – so they should stay cooler.
- We heat our Birch Sap with a metal plate between the fire and the pot. We also heat with a stock pot vs. a traditional basin as you would see in Maple Syruping. This prevents the sap from getting too hot (less surface area) and direct flame. Once the sap is boiled down enough I bring it inside to a stainless bowl sitting over a pot of boiling water – makeshift double boiler. This finishes the syrup off nice. NO BURNING.
- When I AM backed up on sap – I keep a 5-gal bucket (or currently TWO) in my chest freezer. I wanted to finish off this batch because it has been a continuous boil for a week – I need to finish it and start fresh. Don’t ask why – I just get paranoid of cooking it too long.
Notice two things:
- I do not complain of the boil ratio
- I find a solution to each challenge
The boil ratio is really not troublesome. Yes, you get very little product for the amount of sap, but like I said before, you also collect way more per day. It truly does not bother me.
Finding solutions is half the fun. Problem solving.
My other major issue is: I do not love it. My solution is hopefully my goldmine of a recipe that I will want to tap ALL the Birch. Most people love to tap because…money. ONE jelly jar size of Birch Syrup can be sold for $18+! That’s almost $300/gal.
Tapping Birch Trees.
Supplies to Tap
Instructions to Tap
- Select a Birch Tree that is healthy and 8″+ in diameter
- With your drill and bit, drill about 1.5″ into the tree, approx. 4ft up from the earth
- Hammer the spile into the tree as deep as the hole
- Attach tubing to the spile
- Drill a hole into the side of the bucket – as close to the top as you can. You will want to widen this hole a bit so the hose can fit in. Be sure to tap the plastic pieces from the bucket before you start collecting
- Put the hose end, opposite the end that is connected to the spile, into the bucket.
- Secure the lid on the bucket.
- 12-24hrs later check for sap and begin collecting!
Supplies to Boil
- Stainless Pot
- Flour Cloth
- Metal Mixing Bowl
- Mason Jars
- Heat Source(s)
- Kitchen pot
- Hydrometer for Syrup
- Test Tube
Instructions to Boil
- Set up the heat source (we use outdoor fire with a metal sheet between the flame and the pan).
- Pour the sap into the stainless pot and place on top of the heat source. You can use the flour cloth to filter at this point.
- Be sure you check the temp often to keep it under 200°F. I brought mine to 205°F a few times and it was fine. Just keep an eye on it.
- Keep adding sap to the syrup until all of your sap is boiled down. Continue to use a flour cloth to filter.
- Once the sap is boiled down enough to fit into the stainless mixing bowl, filter and transfer to the bowl
- Place the bowl over a boiling pot of water – this is a makeshift double boiler.
- Continue to heat the syrup and check the brix often
- Once the brix is at 66, your syrup is DONE-ZO!
- Transfer to Mason Jars and seal.
Remember: the average ratio is about 100:1. 100 gal of sap to make 1 gal syrup. You gon’ be boiling awhile. 🙂
There you have it.
Birch fricken Syrup.
It caramelizes well on meat on the grill. You can make Birch beer or Birch wine with it. It tastes JUST like molasses – I bet you could make a mean Birch cookie.
Like I have mentioned – I am on the hunt for an amazing recipe. Please send me all the ideas or tried-and-true recipes!
If you ever have any questions, or ideas for future blogs, comment below or shoot me an email!
From the farm,