How Black walnut syrup is made
Making black walnut syrup is almost identical to making maple syrup but with some unique challenges that must be addressed along the way. One of the first challenges is finding large stands of walnut trees that are tapable yet still reasonably close to the sugarhouse. Most people feel walnut trees are more finically suited towards veneer lumber and do not want tap holes in their trees.
Second unique characteristic: walnut trees naturally produce pectin! What is pectin? Pectin is a naturally occurring compound found in the walnut sap, this must be filtered out of the sap throughout the boiling process. If the pectin is not filtered out the end result will be walnut jelly. Large amounts of loss is resulted from this filtering process making the gallons of sap to finish product roughly 70:1 depending on the initial sugar content of the sap.
Walnut syrup has a rich nutty flavor. Walnut syrup contains all the same minerals as maple syrup such as iron, calcium, and magnesium that provide health benefits. No products have been added to the syrups it is all 100% natural.
Brief rundown of the process…
The tapping process beings: placing a drilled hole in the tree, placing a tap in the hole and attaching a containment device. Many sugarbushes are using tubing methods to transport the sap directly to the sap house but many backyard operations are still using the bucket or bag method. The bucket method required daily pickup to every tree resulting a lot of labor hours in the woods.
Late February/ March/ April
After the trees have been tapped you now get to rest for short time before totally craziness breaks out. Once the ground temperatures start warming the sap starts flowing. The ultimate weather conditions are 40 degrees during the day and freezing at night. This creates pressure within the trees causing the sap to run out of the tap hole. Typical sugar season is 4-6 weeks. This process is 100% based on the weather. If warm temps persist the season can be half the length with heavy sap runs with late nights and early mornings for the employees. The sap must be boiled down to roughly 67% (Brix) sugar content. This is measured using a syrup hydrometer and using the temperature. The sap must reach 219 degrees before it’s even tested. A final temperature roughly around 222 degrees will need to be reached for syrup. Remember water boils at 212 degrees, syrup boils at much hotter temperature.
This is the evaporator I used to boil down the sap with 2×6 wood fired.
Boiling and storage
Once the syrup has been produced it will need to be graded depending on when it was produced. Early season syrup has a light color and flavor and later in the season it progressively gets darker and has a more robust flavor. Most people prefer the darker syrup. The Syrup is darker due to the higher mineral contents in the sap that the tree extracts as the ground warms.
Syrup can be bulk packed and kept in a cool secure location till it is bottled. The bottling process involves heating the syrup again to a minimum of 180 degrees then it is placed in glass or plastic bottles with a sealed cap. The syrup then can be stored at room temperature for a many years without issues.
How did I get involved in making Black Walnut syrup?
After producing a small amount of maple syrup 2014 my interests in making syrup started to grow. For me this time of the season was a slow time with my other lines of work and I enjoy working outside in the woods. After reading “The Sugarmakers Companion” written by Michael Farrell, I noticed he talked about tapping Butternut trees.
Butternut trees are white walnuts; I did not have any white walnuts around my area but I sure did have access to a lot of Black Walnut trees. After making some contacts with my neighbors many of them allowed me to tap their trees in trade for syrup. No one knew what to expect and most never even thought it was possible to tap walnuts to make syrup. So off I went with this experiment…..
2015 was my first season tapping walnuts along the Susquehanna River in Northeast Pennsylvania. I placed roughly 325 taps within a mile radius of my house. All hand collected everything using the bag system then poured it into five gallon buckets. The walnut trees do not produce the same amount of sap as a maple it is roughly half the amount. I did the boiling in a flat pan using propane as the heat source. Long days late night…. 2016 season I will be upgrading to a wood fired evaporator…
Why do I mix maple syrup with black walnut syrup?
All exotic syrups constitute a high price level, by mixing a light grade maple syrup with the pure walnut syrup I am able to provide a cost effective product for the consumer. The nutty walnut flavor transfers directly though the maple syrup.
The sap run for Black Walnut trees coincides with the maple run. Raw sap contest is about sugar content as maple at 2 Brix. The black walnut tree produces roughly half the amount of sap vs a maple tree. With the pectin filtering and lower sugar contents, I figure 70-100 gallons of sap is required to produce one gallon of syrup. Lots of boiling!!!
To come in 2016
– Birch Syrup!