As the days lengthen and the first signs of warmth, sun, and green grass creep into our lives, we’ve undertaken a super-exciting project: tapping the black walnut trees on our property to make syrup. Although sugar maples are the tree of choice for commercial sugaring due to their high ratio of sugar to water in their sap, many other types of trees can be tapped to make syrup, including silver and red maples, hickory, birch, box elder, and walnuts.
Having tasted the delicious, light, and refreshing sap of black walnut at our neighbor’s house last winter, we were eager to tap our own trees this year and to experiment with making black walnut syrup.
First off, a few basics of tapping:
- Trees should be at least 14″ in diameter
- You will need: a drill, tapping spouts, buckets for collection, and a big pot in which to boil down the sap
- Ideal tapping conditions are a combination of cold nights and warmer days. For most trees, daytime temperatures should be in the 40’s, although our black walnuts have flowed in daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees.
- Updated to add: We have tapped for several years now, and have found that the tapping season can range significantly; in 2013 we tapped in March, whereas the tapping window in 2015 and 2016 was from late January – mid-February. My advice is to start keeping a close eye on the forecast starting in January. If you notice good tapping conditions, go ahead and put in a few taps and observe the sap flow.
How to Tap Black Walnut Trees for Syrup
First, we used a 5/16th drill bit to create a small hole for the spout.
Gently hammer in the spout (we used this one from Leader Evaporator).
In our first year of tapping black walnut trees, Brian drilled holes in food-grade buckets to collect the sap. In later years, we invested in food-grade plastic sap collection buckets.
We tapped 14 trees in total around the property, creating a sort of “sap line” that we walk each day. That, in and of itself, is such a satisfying process, noticing the trees in our woods, hearing bird calls, walking together as a family, as the kids get to help collect and pour the sap.
Drip. drip. drip.
Almost full to the top!
We pour each sap bucket into this larger 5 gallon food-grade bucket to bring it back home.
The sap itself is full of nutrients, cold, with just a hint of sweetness. It is refreshingly light with a slight nutty flavor, and we will sometimes just drink it, as we consider tree sap an excellent spring tonic.
How to Boil Down Black Walnut Sap to Make Syrup
Now it’s time to boil down the sap to concentrate the sugar content into syrup. I highly recommend boiling the sap out of doors, as it produced copious amounts of steam that can leave a sticky residue on walls.
How Much Sap is Needed to Produce a Gallon of Black Walnut Syrup?
We are often asked how many gallons of sap are needed to produce a gallon of black walnut syrup. Roughly speaking, the ratio is not too different than that of maple syrup (40:1); in other words, approximately 40 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of syrup. This was close to 10 quarts of sap, which boiled down to…
About 12 ounces of sweet black walnut syrup! It’s important to keep in mind that we were boiling down the syrup in a very rudimentary way, without measuring Brix, or the sugar content of the liquid. If you would like to be more precise, you can purchase a Brix refractometer for around $25. I would estimate that it took about 3 hours of continuous boiling to achieve the color and sweetness that we desired.
What Does Black Walnut Syrup Taste Like?
At first taste, black walnut syrup is intensely sweet, with a flavor that is distinctly different than maple syrup. I describe it as earthy and nutty; if maple syrup was the violin in a string quartet, I would characterize black walnut syrup as the cello. It’s just a bit deeper and more complex.
Black walnut syrup can be used in place of maple syrup – on pancakes, yogurt, fruit, etc. Personally, I find the flavor to be so unique and distinctive that I reserve my black walnut syrup for fresh eating, rather than baking or cooking.
Look outside – do you have a few trees that you can tap? Then do it! Making your own syrup is cost saving, fun, and oh-so-delicious.
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