Tasting maple syrup, for science

Mar 17, 2006
Tasting maple syrup, for science
Maple technician Mark Isselhardt takes the measure of a new evaporator at the Proctor Maple Research Center. (Photo: Josh Brown)

Forget about buckets. In recent years, maple syrup has been made with reverse osmosis sap extractors and air injectors. This week, the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill Center, VT, has opened a new research building to test exactly what effect these new technologies have on the chemistry and flavor of syrup.

It is the only such research processing facility in the world.

"Nobody since the 1940s has done these kinds of experiments, and the industry has changed a lot since then," says the center's director, Tim Perkins.

UVM's new facility will conduct experiments on up to four evaporators simultaneously, fed by a common sap source, allowing researchers to discover whether anecdotes about new, faster equipment are supported by science. For example, "air injectors appear to make the syrup lighter," Perkins says, but "how do they impact the flavor?"

Maple syrup science is a nose -- and mouth -- science. The technical term is organoleptic. "Which means you put it in your mouth and taste it," says Perkins. "We get people who know the flavor of maple syrup, and off-flavors, and they try each one." Laboratory tests using gas chromatography provide a breakdown of the many compounds in the syrup, which supplements the tastebud approach.

The interplay of seasonal tree biology, boiling temperature, microorganisms, sugar chemistry, storage time, final container -- and a long list of other subtleties -- makes each glinting amber-to-chocolate bottle of syrup nearly as distinct as varieties of wine. "Syrup is not just concentrated sap," Perkins says.

This new facility will allow Perkins and other researchers to conduct experiments on up to four evaporators simultaneously. With funding from the USDA, his research over the next two years will focus on air injectors.

Maple research began at UVM in the 1890s and the Proctor Maple Research Center was established in 1946 with the donation of an old hill farm to UVM by Governor Mortimer Proctor. It's one of three maple research stations in the world, along with Cornell's and the Centre Acer in Quebec.

The new facility was built with funds from the Proctor Center's endowment fund, established by UVM in 1999, and contributions from individuals, maple-related companies, and several maple associations.

By providing objective data about the chemistry of maple syrup, Perkins expects this new research facility will help producers make sense of new tools in an old art.

Source: University of Vermont

Explore further: LEGO bricks build better mathematicians

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

10 minutes ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

14 minutes ago

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

European space plane set for February launch

23 minutes ago

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Space station rarity: Two women on long-term crew

24 minutes ago

For the 21st-century spacewoman, gender is a subject often best ignored. After years of training for their first space mission, the last thing Samantha Cristoforetti and Elana Serova want to dwell on is the ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.