Savor birch syrup products; less sweet and more flavorful than maple syrup.
If you’ve ever traveled in Alaska or Canada, you may be aware of birch syrup, a wonderful culinary product. And we’ve discovered Kahiltna Birchworks, family-owned company in Talkeetna, Alaska, that produces high-quality birch syrup and a wide range of birch products.
Birch syrup is a second cousin to sweeter maple syrup. It has a distinctive flavor that tastes like caramel with a bit of spiciness. Like maples, birch trees can be tapped for their sap. The sap is then condensed into syrup, which can be used on pancakes and waffles or as a sweetener to make candies or other products.
Making birch syrup is more difficult than making maple syrup and requires about 100-120 liters (26-31 gallons) of sap to produce one liter of syrup. That’s more than twice what’s needed to make maple syrup. It’s also more challenging to condense birch sap down into syrup because the fructose in birch burns easily. Therefore, the price of birch syrup is higher than maple syrup. But we feel birch is a unique culinary product that’s worth the price (and because of its unique and assertive flavor, a little goes a long way).
Birch syrup is a rare treat. The worldwide production of birch syrup in 2004 was 1500 gallons. While Kahiltna Birchworks is a very small business, it is one of the largest producers of birch syrup. They tap 12,000 trees and produce 1,500 gallons of pure birch syrup (there are only 2,200 gallons of birch syrup made worldwide).
We first learned about Kahiltna Birchworks when we visited their booth at the farmer’s market in Anchorage. We were impressed by the large number of birch-related products they carry, including syrup, candies, and condiments. The company’s production facility and retail store is located in Talkeetna, a small community on the way to Denali National Park.
They’re not only a family-owned business, Kahiltna is also a sustainable and eco-friendly. The people who own the company love their trees and take care of them. Tapping the trees does not injure them as tapping takes only 10-15% of the total sap production of the tree. They limit each tree to one tap; and give each tree a two-year rest between tapings. They also plug each 7/16″ hole at the end of the season to prevent injury to the tree. Their syrup is 100% organic and they don’t add chemicals or preservatives to any of their products.
We sampled three of Kahiltna’s birch products:
Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup– This syrup is darker in color than maple and the taste is stonger—like someone added a bit of dark molasses to good quality maple syrup. This stronger flavor makes Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup a great choice for cooking such as basting salmon with it for a sweet/savory taste. You can also use it to top ice cream, add to milkshakes or smoothies, or even try sweetening your coffee with it. It would make a great sweetener for BBQ sauce or dressings. There are several Alaskan breweries that use Kahiltna Birchworks syrup in their beers, including Alaska Brewing in Juneau, 49th State Brewing in Healy, Denali Brewing in Talkeetna, and Midnight Sun Brewing in Anchorage. Even out-of-state breweries have gotten in the act with Kahiltna birch syrup, including Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware, Great Divide in Colorado, and Sierra Nevada in California!
Birch Cream Caramels– The company calls this candy Alaska Gold Nuggets and with good reason. These caramels are made with sugar, milk, cream, butter, birch syrup, corn syrup, and pecans. The flavor is rich and buttery and, while the texture isn’t as smooth as some caramels, the rich birch syrup favor and chewy pecans make this candy addictive.
Birch Almond Brittle-Like other confections made with birch syrup, this almond brittle isn’t overly sweet. It’s crisp and chewy and the combination of almond and birch syrup creates a deep, satisfying flavor.
If you’re in Talkeetna, Alaska, be sure to stop by Kahiltna Birchworks. They’ll also ship products in flat-rate post office boxes, which saves on shipping.– by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor