Monday, June 04, 2012

An Anology Involving Maple Syrup

It will come as no surprise to you that there is no Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, or any other corn syrup laden imitation maple sryup in my house. I mean really - you don't have to have awesome sunglasses, ironic facial hair, nor do you you have to spend $239 on a ticket to The Great GoogaMooga to know that real maple syrup is just so much better.

I occasionally like to make pancakes for breakfast and my daughters could perhaps be called pancake connoisseurs. They know their pancakes and appreciate all sorts of toppings. I guess it was a few months ago now, while in northwestern Connecticut, I took them to visit a sugar house so we could all learn how maple syrup is made. We tasted all sorts of maple goodies, learned how to tap a tree, saw the evaporator and other equipment, and I learned several things about maple syrup that resonated with me: 

1) Maple syrup aromas and flavors can differ from place to place and from season to season.

Hmmm, so not all maple syrup should smell and taste the same.

2) Maple syrup must legally be at least 66% sugar when it's bottled. But maple sap as it flows from the tree has nowhere near that concentration. At the beginning of the season when the sugar runs high in the tree it can be between 4-5% sugar (or Brix, if you will). Towards the end of the season it can be less than 2% sugar. That may not seem like much of a difference, but it is. The sap is boiled in order to achieve a 66% sugar concentration, and sap at 4-5% brix requires a lot less boiling time.

The boiling process imparts its own aromas and flavors to the finished syrup. The dark brown maple syrup that I've been buying - that lovely dark color and the intensity of the aromas and flavors comes in part from the process by which the syrup is made. I've been buying Amber maple syrup, syrup made from late-season sap that began with a lower sugar content. In this sugar house in Connecticut I tasted Golden syrup for the first time, syrup made from early season sap that began with higher sugar content, and required less time in the boiler. It was nowhere near as intense as Amber syrup, but it had a purity that was quite compelling. 

3) Maple syrup is filtered before bottling in order to remove "sugar sands" and other particles. Thank goodness, too. Customers don't want to buy syrup that might throw a sediment, or appear anything other than crystal-clear. They might feel as though a cloudy syrup, or one that has crystals at the bottom of the bottle, is a lesser syrup. Better to filter it heavily, to remove those particles.
It's funny how obvious this all seems to me now, yet I never thought about it. And I am someone who cares about what I eat and drink. Not to say that there is anything wrong with eating dark amber maple syrup - of course there isn't. Golden syrup is more pure in maple aroma and flavor though, if that matters to you.

Now, I have to figure out how to score some unfiltered golden maple syrup...


SteveG said...

We all love maple syrup in our household as well, thanks for the article!

You can buy raw syrup here:

but before you do, you might want to read these folks' comments:

SjP said...

Score, as in acquire? or....Score, as in points?

Anonymous said...

Great entry. I was relieved at the end of it when you did not ask what wine we would pair with pancakes and maple syrup. I really thought that is where you were heading :) it would have been tough!

Anonymous said...

We are coming out with a Hard Cider that is smoothed over with a bit of organic Maple Syrup from Breezie Maples in upstate NY.

Jonathan Hull

mamazakka said...

Just boiled down my second ever batch of real maple syrup from my tree. (Yes, singular.) Was surprised how pale and golden it was, I was thinking I had boiled it incorrectly somehow, but now I believe it's because I'm getting the early sap now, and it's the late-season sap that will go all amber once cooked. I want the dark amber syrup, but yes, this pale golden syrup is very nice too...however, in my opinion it's more like a simple sugar syrup than it is a Hallelujah chorus of "MAPLE!".