Alaska’s Sap-Suckers


May 13, 2010

“Sap begins to run when nights are still cold enough to form “sapsicles ” from the spouts. Only the water in the sap freezes; the tree sugars remain as a syrupy coating. Evan Humphrey, the original Birch Boy, tastes one.”

photo courtesy of  Birchboy Gourmet Birch Syrup

Spring has been TRYING to arrive in  our area of Alaska, until the past two to three days. After days of sun, low wind and day time temperatures well above freezing, our river broke out, ground was thawing and things looked to be heading in the right direction.

Then came the last few days when temperatures dipped into the 20s during the day, freezing rain and blowing snow arrived and projects we thought we might get a jump on are stalled.

During the these warmer days I was torn between getting much needed inside things done and wanting to be working in the garden.

I had a post about ready on some research that seemed to show that fish was a very digestible protein for humans, but wanted to check some details. Let me just say that is has been one of the biggest run arounds and  I am still chasing it. I will get it to you but at this time I need to head into other things that have been planned.

As you know if you follow our blog, I attended Alaska’s Sustainable Agriculture conference in Fairbanks. We talked a lot about having the opportunity for remote areas to produce more of their own food, among other sustainable agriculture issues.

Something that is new to me is the Birch Syrup industry here in Alaska. From what I have been able to find there are a few Alaskan producers who seem to be doing a growing business. In talking to producers, expenses are still high and the public is also on a big learning curve to actually go looking for the product.

One producer is in Haines, Birchboy:Gourmet Birch Syrup , and two others are in the Mat-Su area: Alaska Birch Syrup Co and Kahiltna Birchworks .
I had heard a tad bit about them in general conversation at the conference and then came across a write up in the ADN recently.

The industry seems to be similar in a number of ways to the famous Maple Syrup industry of the NE, BUT rarer! The trees are still tapped but instead of producing 1 gal of syrup for every 40 gal of sap as is average in the Maple industry, it is 1 gal for 100 gallons of sap. Only about 10%-15% of the sap is taken each year so it allows this to easily be a sustainable process for the trees.
Numbers like tapping 5,700 trees by just one Alaskan company helps to understand that demand for the product is growing.

Everything I have read show these to be a labor intensive small  family owned operations. Many of them more rural than urban.

Beyond something to go over your ice cream or pancakes, Birch syrup is being used in all sorts of other products. Things like marinades, barbeque sauces, baked beans, coffee, breads, sodas and ice cream.

I got to thinking of a marinade for that fresh salmon we should be getting soon? How about then smoking the salmon? I don’t know about you but my head gets to spinning about all the possibilities!!

There are some recipes on one site that will get you going along these lines too.

But back to sustainable, local, and something we can participate in to help local Alaskans, the  tiny industry was summed up well by one birch syrup company owner…

“It’s development, but on a small-scale,” Dulce Ben-East said. “I love the local movement. It’s so much a part of how I like doing things. Being a part of that is great.”

~Victoria Briggs~


4 Responses to “Alaska’s Sap-Suckers”

  1. the problem child Says:

    Well, maple marinade is delicious on salmon, so I think your birch syrup marinade is a good idea. Also consider a glaze.

  2. Jenny Tallman Says:

    Birch syrup glazed salmon is delicious!

    Mix 2 tbsp pure birch syrup with 2 tsp grainy dijon mustard and 1/2 tsp olive oil. Grill salmon, in last 5 min brush on glaze. Equally as good on lake trout or rainbow trout.

  3. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    This is a fun read by someone who sort of stumbled onto the birch syrup industry, and realizes that she stepped into her future with a sense of adventure & flair, and ended up with a viable company.

    “At the end of 1990, the final proposal was submitted to (Alaska Science & Technology Foundation) ASTF, complete with all the required bells and whistles and estimates and projections and justifications; I called it my work of science fiction. I admit to a rather cavalier attitude about the whole project—there was no chance my insignificant little proposal would be awarded a grant alongside really important issues related to Alaskan fisheries and human bone growth and innovative computer software. So when I was advised at the end of February 1991 that we had been awarded the 3-year grant as proposed (minus the trip to Japan I had thrown in), I was more shocked than anything else. It certainly was a wakeup call; things got serious.

    As I look back now on the development of the birch syrup industry, I marvel that the Board of Directors of ASTF truly had more vision than I
    had. The support, guidance, and encouragement I received throughout the grant period, and still receive, has been vital to the continued
    growth of the industry. We set out to determine if processing birch syrup could become a viable Alaska industry. If it isn’t a million-dollar industry yet, it certainly is viable and it certainly has potential as a leader in
    Alaska’s non-timber forest products sector.”

  4. ugavic Says:

    Well that IS IT, Jenny!!!

    I am ordering some syrup and getting ready to throw the subsistence net out for those Kings!!

    MUYS- This is the great article!! Oh I do love it.

    Agreed….dream big and work never know what will be created!!

    One thing I love about most Alaskans is their never ending love for giving something a try and see how far they can go. They also are still using the homesteader mind set of….we will make this work.


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