Not to be confused with maple syrup, birch syrup has a distinctive savory-sweet flavor profile that can add a layer of complexity to sauces, desserts, or even drinks.
Birch syrup is primarily produced in low-temperature areas with an abundance of birch trees such as Alaska, Russia, and Canada. Due to the difficult production process, birch syrup is not as widely available as other natural sweeteners. But as its popularity and demand continue to grow in the culinary world and beyond, local syrup makers are finding better ways to harvest and produce this unique ingredient.
Though similar in name, birch syrup is markedly different from maple syrup in terms of flavor. More specifically, birch syrup is not as sweet and has a notable savory undertone with hints of citrus. Some people describe the taste as similar to balsamic vinegar or molasses.
The taste of birch syrup also depends largely on the conditions of the tree it came from. The season, weather, location, and species of birch tree all have an effect on the final flavor. These variations in the flavor of birch syrup can range from metallic to floral.
Birch syrup is made by tapping birch trees for their sap, then using evaporation to reduce the sap into syrup. Because birch sap has considerably more glucose and fructose than sucrose, it takes twice as much sap to make the syrup compared to maple sap. Commercial birch syrup producers also use reverse osmosis machines to reduce the boiling time and yield a milder and more appealing flavor in the syrup.
Birch syrup is not an ideal substitute for honey or maple syrup in pancakes but, instead, it lends its distinctive balance of flavors to a variety of both savory and sweet applications. When using birch syrup for savory dishes, such as in a glaze for meats or in a dressing for salad, you can use it in much the same way as you would balsamic vinegar. It also works wonderfully in desserts and cocktails. The hint of savoriness that birch syrup brings creates complex flavor profiles when combined with classics such as vanilla ice cream or bourbon.