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This Changes Everything: Birch Syrup

Rachel Tepper Paley
May 1, 2014

Photo credit: Samantha Linsell/StockFood

Maple syrup is great and all, but sometimes even the sticky stuff’s most stalwart admirers need to shake things up a bit. Enter birch syrup, the long-lost sibling maple syrup never knew it had.

Birch syrup is made exactly like maple syrup—sugar shacks and all—except birch syrup is made from the sap of birch trees (as opposed to, natch, maple trees). It’s a touch sweeter than maple syrup, with a woodsy caramel flavor, and can similarly be drizzled over pancakes, ice cream, and anything else your sweet tooth desires.

You’ll find birch syrup fans from Iceland to Alaska to New Hampshire, where maple syrup researchers are exploring commercial birch syrup production, but America’s heartland has a particular soft spot for the stuff. In her James Beard Award–nominated cookbook, “The New Midwestern Table,” chef and author Amy Thielen sings birch syrup’s praises:

"Because it takes 60 gallons (or more) of birch sap to make one gallon of birch syrup (compared to the 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup), the resulting syrup is darker, the woody elements are a touch stronger, and in general its sweetness is harder won," Thielen writes.

You can tap your own birch tree if you have access to one, but otherwise we suggest letting someone else do the dirty work. Serious Eats likes syrups by Kahiltna Birchworks, based in Talkeetna, Alaska, and for good reason: The breweries Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, and Great Divide have all used Kahiltna’s birch syrup in specialty brews over the years. Look for birch syrup on Kahiltna’s website; it’s $21 for an eight-ounce bottle.

That may seem pricey—there are much fewer producers of birch syrup than of maple syrup, so it’s rarer and more valuable—but think about it this way: Birch syrup is meant to be savored slowly, not carelessly slopped over soggy pancakes. Stick to this principle, and you’ll get your money’s worth.