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Maple sugar is a sweetening product made by processing the sap of the sugar maple. Native American tribes in some regions of the United States have been producing maple sugar for hundreds of years and it proved to be a popular addition to the larder when European colonists arrived. Health food stores and some large groceries sell maple sugar and it is possible to make it at home, although some special equipment and skills are required.
To produce maple sugar, maple trees are tapped to collect their sap and the sap is boiled into a thick syrup. The syrup is carefully cooked and stirred until the water dissipates, leaving behind solid blocks of sugar. This process requires careful monitoring because the syrup can easily start to burn, ruining the sugar, and it can also boil over and make a mess, in addition to ruining cooking pans and pots. Maple sugar is approximately twice as sweet as table sugar made from sugar cane and it has a naturally dark color. It is rich in a number of minerals found in the sap that are not expressed during the refining process.
Historically, most maple sap was processed into sugar. Sugar was easy to store and carry. Today, maple syrup is often the primary focus of production, but the facilities where maple sap is processed are still known as sugarhouses, a reference to an era when maple sugar was the primary product being made. Along with syrup and sugar, maple sap can also be processed into taffy and a variety of other food products.
People can use maple sugar like they would use other sugars, although it is important to adjust for the increased sweetness. It can be employed in a variety of baking projects, as well as being used to flavor various foods and it can be added to stovetop preparations that require sugar. The rich, very sweet flavor complements a variety of dishes, ranging from roast pork to sauces for desserts.
Blocks of maple sugar can dry out and harden. They are typically sold in wrappings that are designed to retain some moisture so that the sugar can easily be broken up and worked. Sugar that has hardened and is no longer workable can be placed in a bowl and covered with a damp cloth to rehydrate it. Another technique can involve sealing the sugar in a container with some apple slices. The moisture in the apples will transfer to the suga, softening it.