Previous week activities
Syrup producers report that very little sap flowed last week due to continued cold weather. During thawing conditions, cold wind kept air temperatures too cold in some regions preventing sap flow. In southern areas, a small quantity of sap flowed last Friday and Saturday where producers collected enough sap to boil a batch of syrup.
Producers in early southwestern areas have boiled four to seven times. Producers in Grey/Bruce and central areas have had one to three boils so far. In northern late areas producers had their first significant sap flow on Sunday end of the week where sap is expected to flow much better as the new week begins. The colour grades of syrup are mainly extra-light and light, with a few producers getting medium colour. Filtering syrup has been good.
The weather forecast for the province shows that sap flow conditions will be ideal. Maple syrup producers will be very busy throughout the week with multiple heavy sap flows to process into syrup. Two and three feet of snow remains in sugar bushes, which should help to buffer air temperatures from becoming too warm. Colder air from snow will also help to slow the development of dormant buds on maple trees. Sap quality should remain excellent for the week.
Photo 1. A sap extractor separates fresh sap from the vacuum tubing and empties it into a large stainless holding tank. Sap will be flowing frequently this coming week in many areas of the province. Busy steaming sugar houses will be a welcome sight this week.
Grading maple syrup
Traditionally, the Canadian federal government, and each maple-producing province and state have devised their own unique terminologies for grading maple syrup into colour classes that is based on the transmittance of light through the syrup. Ontario Regulation 119/11 details the current grading standard that is used by Ontario syrup producers who are provincially registered.
Maple syrup is produced in a series of batches during the sap collection season. The first batches of syrup are usually very light in colour. As the season progresses the colour darkens and maple flavour becomes stronger by the final batches.
Extra-light syrup transmits the most amount of light. As syrup darkens in colour it transmits less light through the syrup. The amount of light transmitted can be measured visually or electronically.
As recently as four or five years ago, extra light and light grades of syrup were considered to be the best quality and scored highest in judging standards at competitive events. Recently, consumers may prefer any colour grade, some choosing medium and darker grades due to the stronger maple flavour.
Photo 2 & 3. Two syrup producers (left) attend a refresher course on using a colourimeter to grade maple syrup. Maple grading schools are well attended by new and experienced syrup producers at maple industry meetings. On the right, the glass bottle with the black cap is the actual maple syrup sample and has been placed between the two colour test jars for best colour fit. This syrup is graded as ‘Amber’ using the Ontario grading system. These colourimeters should be replaced every two years.
Photo 4 & 5. A portable electronic colourimeter (left) can measure light transmittance to determine the colour grade. Calibration prior to each use is necessary to ensure accurate readings of syrup colour. Similar to a viewfinder, a Lovibond colourimeter (right) uses a standardized colour disk to compare against maple syrup samples.
The International Maple Syrup Institute, in collaboration with industry has developed a harmonized maple grading standard. The various grading systems that are currently used in Canada and in the U.S. can create confusion for importing countries who are not familiar with maple syrup as a product. A universal, or harmonized grade standard would help to develop or expand export markets for maple syrup.
Photo 6. From left to right the four new international Grade A categories are: Golden delicate taste, Amber rich taste, Dark robust taste, and Very Dark strong taste. A separate Processing grade is not shown here. The new international colour grade standards with flavour descriptions will enable a clear understanding of syrup grades among foreign importing countries, such as Europe and Asia.
Using defoaming agent in boiling sap
As sap boils and the sugars begin to concentrate on its pathway through an evaporator, foam can sometimes form at the boiling surface and may become excessive very quickly. Producers manage foam to prevent the sugary sap from foaming up and spilling over the tops of partitions or over the sides of pans onto the floor. Spill-overs disrupt the concentration gradient along the evaporator and can make a sticky mess that wastes good syrup. Sugar can also burn onto the hot pan surface, which can be very difficult to clean. A severe spill-over can almost empty a pan in moments and result in the pan getting burnt, which can end the useful life of an expensive stainless steel pan.
Photo 7 & 8. Maple syrup producers keep a close eye on the amount of foam that can develop in the back sap pan and front syrup pans (left). Commercially available defoamers (right) should have a lot number or batch code to ensure to the producer it is fresh from the supplier and not rancid due to age.
For commercial maple syrup production, butter, other dairy products or any allergenic compounds are not recommended as defoaming agent. For example, peanut oil, soybean oil, milk products and margarine should not be used as defoaming agent in maple sap due to the presence of allergenic proteins. Animal fat, such as pork fat is not recommended as a defoamer.
Non-allergenic defoamers are available from maple equipment dealers, for example, ATMOS 300K liquid and Kosher granular defoamers are commercially available. Defoaming agents should be purchased fresh each season since aged or oxidized oils will turn rancid and impart unpleasant off-flavours in finished maple syrup. For example, fresh safflower oil is sometimes used as defoamer in maple sap however, safflower oil is known to turn rancid quickly. Crisco vegetable shortening will last longer before turning rancid but should still be replaced with a fresh supply every maple syrup season.