“We’re going to use maple in ways that people haven’t even thought of before.”
Vermont maple sugaring is linked in the public imagination with homespun images of galvanized buckets, plaid shirts, and folksy backyard gatherings. That still exists, of course, but make no mistake, Vermont maple sugaring is now big business, conducted on a global scale.
Vermont is the largest maple producer in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of the domestic crop, and Vermont production boomed from 550,000 gallons in 1996 to almost 2 million in 2016, a 261 percent increase. ”The industry has changed in scope and scale so much in the last decade,” says Brad Gillilan, COO of Swanton-based Leader Evaporator, the largest U.S. manufacturer of maple syrup–producing equipment. “It’s been a pretty wild ride.”
The most conspicuous example of the state’s flourishing maple industry is found in Island Pond, where the Maple Guild has some 300,000 taps and plans to add 450,000 more. Working at factory dimensions, the company is looking beyond traditional syrup-in-a-jug to a whole new concept of maple sugar as a natural sweetener for such everyday items as teas, flavored waters, and salad dressings. Maple, too, has entered fashionable culinary circles, adding flavor to coffee beans, butter, yogurt, premium whiskies and vodka, and even being used as a glycemic boost for recovering athletes.
“Some estimates indicate that maple represents 1 percent of the total global market in sweeteners,” says Mark Isselhardt, a maple specialist with the University of Vermont’s Extension Center, “and there’s a push to double that.”