Does your maple syrup have gritty sediment at the bottom of the jars or does it look cloudy? This is the result of sugar sand (also called niter) and every sugarmaker has dealt with it in their syrup-making career. While it’s not very appetizing and can sometimes affect taste, sugar sand is not a sign of spoilage or bad syrup. This article will explain what it is and how to avoid it.
What is sugar sand (or why is my syrup cloudy)?
The maple sap you started with is really the tree’s food and along with lots of water, it contains natural minerals. As you boil off the water, these minerals become concentrated and form into niter. Pouring hot sap and syrup through proper sugarmaking filters before bottling will keep sugar sand out of the syrup. The process is simple and quick but you have to use filters designed for syrup. Watch our quick filtering video here.
One issue we found when we first started making syrup was the big filters were difficult to manage on our own (especially when handling hot, sticky syrup!). But last year we added a smaller one-quart filter kit that also fits into traditional sieve stand holders. This makes for one-person handling and is super easy to fill the jars.
Don't skip this step!
Syrup needs to be filtered three times: once right after you collect it to get out debris (use the thin pre-filter); again after the first boil and before you transfer it to the finish pan (also use the pre-filter); and finally at the finished 219-degree stage (this time use the prefilter nestled inside the thick filter). I usually just set everything up before I start boiling and keep it close to my bottling area. This keeps the temperature up while pouring and is a really seamless part of the process.
Just wash and reuse.
These filters are washable -- just rinse in hot water (no soap or detergents, please) and then hang to dry for next use. Do not wring out or twist as that will damage the fibers. With proper care, these filters will last for many seasons.
Hydrometer and Pro Tips
Of course, cloudy syrup is not a big deal for the home hobbyist but if you’re selling syrup, it’s an absolute no-no. That’s why most large sugarmakers also use a hydrometer – not only does it guarantee the proper sugar content but allows for exact grading and eliminates sugar sand. Some maple syrup makers also let their syrup sit for awhile so the sugar sand sinks to the bottom. They then carefully pour off syrup from the top, reheat it, filter it, and bottle. The remaining bottom portion (with niter) is thrown out or also reheated, filtered, and bottled. This is somewhat wasteful and creates an additional step in the process.
Start your season out right with our professional one-quart sugarmaking filters! Designed for the home sugarmaker in mind, this quick step makes all the difference in clear syrup. Shop for filter kits here.