By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Moorefield, Ontario – What began as Bert and Kathy Beilke’s passion to grow food and connect with nature more than 20 years ago, has since turned into an innovative new food product.
Laura, Konrad, Adam, Jake, Bert, Kathy and Roxy (the dog) Beilke. Photo by Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Golden birch syrup is a semi-sweet flavoured syrup made from sap of yellow birch trees on the Beilkes’ Wagram Springs Farm in Wellington County near Moorefield.
“Still a new product in Ontario, birch syrup offers so many unique opportunities,” says Kathy. “It’s often used as a natural sweetener or ingredient and has become very popular with our customers.”
In less than five years, the Beilkes have gone from research to production and distribution of this unique food product. Already familiar with maple syrup production, and with the help of their four children, Bert and Kathy tried their hand at making birch syrup in 2013.
“We had heard about it, so we did our research and tapped some trees to test it out. We were pleasantly surprised and have been increasing our production every year since,” says Kathy.
Birch syrup is more common in high growth areas of white birch, like northern Ontario, Alaska, Yukon and eastern United States. The Beilkes tap yellow birch trees, making unique golden birch syrup.
The process is similar to maple syrup – birch trees are tapped and the sap is collected and boiled to remove excess water. The ratio of sap to syrup is higher for birch, requiring approximately 100 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup.
Birch sap requires warmer weather to run; the season often begins just as maple syrup season ends in late March and the result is a rich, golden syrup that is gaining in popularity.
“Our syrup is already being sold in seven local retail locations, distributed to restaurants and chefs through a food broker, and is regularly featured in local food restaurants,” says Kathy, who is in charge of marketing. “Our target market is the gourmet food category so we attend a lot of food shows.”
Kathy offers product samples at food shows and events and says she’s noticed the most interest in her products from consumers between 20 and 40 years of age. She says “they seem to be more focused on natural foods, want to know where their food comes from and are open to exploring new tastes.”
Unlike maple, Birch syrup’s sugar content contains both fructose and glucose. Kathy believes this could offer opportunities for additional birch food products.
Wagram Springs has already partnered with a local chef to make birch syrup caramels, another popular treat at food shows. Kathy has also teamed up with the University of Guelph and Niagara College for help with market research and new birch food and beverage product development.
“There hasn’t been much research in this area and we think there are a lot of opportunities to use birch in the kitchen every day or as a nutraceutical functional food,” says Kathy.
Kathy and her family have come a long way in the few short years they’ve been making birch syrup. She says her biggest challenge is to convince people to try something different.
Kathy and Bert are fortunate to have the help of their children in every part of syrup production – from tapping and boiling to bottling and sampling at food shows.
“We’ve always had a passion to promote local, healthy food and it feels good to be able to offer something unique from our own farm,” says Kathy.
To learn more about the Beilke family and birch syrup, visit wagramsprings.ca
This article is provided by AgInnovation Ontario, a project of the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC). The ATCC is funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.