Tasting Maple Syrup, A Time Honored Art
Tasting as a means of quality control has been used since the beginning of time. When
we mention tasting, we immediately think of enologists with their tastevins and of
monks in their monasteries busily perfecting their beer or cheese-making techniques
between prayers. Canadians have embraced the tasting culture. Just think of the joy
of appreciating a good olive oil. We are a long way from the 1960s, when the main
quality of a good oil was to have no taste! There are flavor wheels for all of the
mentioned products and even for chocolate. Even salts such as La Fleur de Sel de
Guérande have their connoisseurs!

The Flavor of Maple Syrup
According to the scientific literature, the flavor of maple syrup develops during the
evaporation process; the taste precursors are part of the sap. In addition to water,
minerals and various sugars, maple sap is rich in organic acids, nitrogen compounds
and, like red wine, in phenolic compounds and flavonoids. The amount of these
compounds in maple sap may vary over the course of the maple syrup season, from
one season to the next, according to the area, and from one maple tree to the next.

Among the taste precursors, sugars play an important role: they initiate the
caramelization reaction and the Maillard reaction (which gives bread a brown crust) as
the water is evaporating. Also, under the effect of the heat, phenols with tasty names
such as vanillin and coniferol are released.

Maple syrup is defined by much more than just the degree of caramelization. We
already know that the richness of the maple syrup flavor is a result of the various
reactions of the other compounds in the maple sap. We know that the Maillard reaction
(sugar and amino acids) is important; therefore, we can assume that the phenolic
compounds and flavonoids also have an important role in producing the flavor of maple
syrup, like in the case of red wine. However, this effect has not yet been confirmed.

Tasting Maple Syrup
Although professional tasters require extensive training, you can sharpen your tasting
skills by following these steps:

  • First, smell the maple syrup by taking three quick sniffs. Make a mental note of
    your impressions.
  • Next, take a small sip of the maple syrup and swirl it around in your mouth. It is
    a good idea to spit it out if you can. Take about a minute to concentrate on the
    full range of flavors. Try to associate the flavor with your own experience (for
    example, the aroma from a bag of marshmallows).
  • If possible, share your reaction with others, as this often helps trigger memory
    associations. Once you have identified what you think characterizes the taste of
    the maple syrup, memorize the sensation and the name for it (for example,
    vanilla).
  • Finally, where possible, assess the degree of intensity of the maple syrup (for
    example, mild, medium or strong).

© 2009 Centre ACER and the Food & Research Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food
Canada
TASTING MAPLE SYRUP
© 2009 Québec Delegation Chicago
source: M. Laport