ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Deep inside the forests around our region, Cornell researchers are full speed ahead, working to develop new maple products.

The mission is about much more than adding the sweet flavor to products like chocolate or wine. It’s part of a bigger effort to grow the industry and boost rural economies.

Aaron Wightman is a New York State Maple Specialist and the Co-Director for the Cornell Maple Program. He and other researchers are on a mission to support the growth of the industry by creating new products such as wine, kombucha, chocolate, and sports gels infused with maple.

Courtesy: Cornell University
Aaron Wightman monitors a network of taps and tubing.

“It’s just a raw resource that can be used to make all kinds of foods,” Wightman said.

It’s way bigger than the bottle it comes in.

The marketplace for just maple syrup is rather small. The average American eats maybe three ounces of maple syrup a year. So, it’s a $30 million industry in New York State but if we look at something, even just the wine industry, that’s a $4.5 billion industry and only in New York State. So, if we can tap into some of these other market sectors, then we suddenly have a much bigger place to sell maple products and then we can start growing this industry.

Aaron Wightman

Tapping into those other fields would be significant. Not just for the rural economies where the trees are, but for the future of maple as well.

“If we keep making more and more maple syrup, at some point, we’re going to start suppressing the price because supply will outstrip demand. But it’s also a missed opportunity. You can only make grape wine along the Finger Lakes but you can make maple wine anywhere in the state, and we’ve made maple wine and it can be really delicious,” said Wightman.

Right now, they’re only tapping about two percent of the state’s maple trees. There are more than 300,000,000 trees they could be tapping. So, they’re barely scratching the surface, but they’re growing.

As they make more products, like maple chocolate, they’ll continue to boost the economy and fill a gap.

“There’s a need, I think, for more authentic living and more local industry and more artisan products, and we can build that in New York and make this a really nice place to live again.”

aaron wightman

Tapping into opportunities in every corner of the state.