Maple syrup tasting: Flavor and perfume
Maple syrup flavors, aroma and bouquet are complexes and sometimes subtle. Many factors influence maple syrup flavors and not unlike gourmet food such as chocolate, wine, olive oil, vanilla and fine cheese, maple syrup has a rich and wide vocabulary to define its bouquet. You could hear someone say a certain maple syrup has a roasted ground black coffee dominant flavour combined with delicate fruity hazelnut minor flavor and a touch of cinnamon, well unlikely but the vocabulary is there! Let’s discover the reason why maple syrup flavors are so rich and how should you taste maple syrup and describe the explosion of aroma and pleasure in your mouth!
Maple Syrup Type
There are many grades of Maple syrup: Extra light maple syrup, Light maple syrup, medium maple syrup, amber maple syrup and dark maple syrup, grade b maple syrup and grade C. The latter is rarely seen and only used in commercial food application. There is no establish international classification for maple syrup and it changes per country. The strongest tasting characteristic is the color, the lighter the maple syrup the more subtle the taste. Maple syrup taste can also be influenced by region.
Maple syrup Flavor
Maple Syrup is made from sap collected from maple trees during the sugaring season which starts around mid-February and last until April (depending on region, climate and elevation). The trees need to be at least 30 to 40 years old before they can sustain growth and being tapped simultaneously. Early season maple syrup tend to be clear and light in taste. As the season advanced, it becomes darker and more caramelized in flavour.
Maple syrup’s flavor starts blossoming during the evaporation process. All the taste precursors are contained within the maple sap. The maple sap is composed of water, minerals, various sugars as well as organic acids, nitrogen compounds and, similarly to red wine, phenolic compounds and flavonoids. The composition of the maple saps changes during the sugaring season, throughout the years and varies from tree to tree and region to region. This is the reason why some regions are considered the paradise of maple syrup and tend to produce maple syrup with a more rounded and elaborate bouquet.
The sugars present in the maple sap play a crucial role in initiating the caramelization reaction and the Maillard reaction as the water is evaporating. The caramelization is the oxidation of sugar; a process used extensively in cooking which result in a nutty flavor and brown color. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar both present in maple syrup sap, usually requiring heat. It is vitally important in the preparation or presentation of many types of food. Maillard reaction is the process that gives bread, croissants and brioche a brown crust. Futhermore, with the heat effect, phenols such as vanillin and coniferol are released within the sap and create the rich and complex maple syrup perfume.
Maple syrup perfume
Maple syrup share many similarities with wine; not only by the presence of phenolic compounds and flavonoids but also in the variety of present flavors and the diversity of the terminology involved in describing its taste. Here is a list of different terms which compose the wide spectrum of maple syrup terminology:
Roasted, a dominant flavor
There is 3 degrees of roasted flavour present in maple syrup. Light, medium and strong. A light roasted flavor could be described as golden sugar, chicory or toast. For a medium flavour, you could use cooked sugar, caramelized, burnt wood, ground coffee, brown coffee bean or chocolate. And for a strong roasted flavour you would say burnt sugar, ground black coffee, black coffee bean, smoked.
Confectionery, a dominant flavor
Confectionery flavors are related to the sugariness of the maple syrup. There is a light confectionery linked with white sugar. A medium confectionery would be linked with terms such as corn syrup or light brown sugar. For a strong confectionery flavor, dark brown sugar, molasses and sponge toffee are adequate.
Maple, a dominant flavor
This one is easier to characterise as you can say light, medium and strong maple flavour or a roasted dandelion root flavor. It is more difficult to define this dominant flavor as quite often maple syrup will be blended to achieve a consistent maple flavor.
Woody and Vanilla, dominants flavors
Even though they are considered dominants flavors, you need a good tasting sense to be able to characterise both these flavors as they can be more subtle. Woody flavors are generally linked with type of wood: Firewood, wet wood or softwood. Vanilla is a bit easier to characterise as you could say it has a strong vanilla flavor or go with a light Marshmallow flavor.
This is where the expect can really shine, you need a bit more experience or great smell and taste to be able to pinpoint accurately minor flavors but they are present in maple syrup and if you take the time to taste properly, you definitely will be able to get a glimpse of them. Take your time, don’t stress and let the maple syrup perfume invade your senses, you’ll get some surprise!
Herbal minor Flavor
• Fresh Herbs: Stem, Grassy, Shoot, Buds
• Dry Herbs: Crushed leaves, Nutshells, Dry herbs, Hay
• Fermented Herbs: Silage
Plants, Humus, Forest, Cereals minor flavors
• Humust, Forest: Mushroom, Mold, Potato
• Cereals: Malt, Oat, Wheat, Rye
Fruity minor flavor
• Nuts: Bitter almond, Hazelnut, Nuts
• Peach, fruits with pits or seeds
Milky minor flavor
• Fresh: butter, cream, milk
• Heated: butter,milk
Floral minor flavour
Spicy minor flavour
• Anis – Black licorice
How to taste maple syrup
If you plan on tasting multiples grades of maple syrup, always start with the lightest color of maple syrup. That way, the strongest darker maple syrup flavor won’t affect the tasting of the lighter more delicate maple syrup.
The tasting method for maple syrup is quite similar to wine. We recommend the 5 “S” technique: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Savor.
1. Take a look at the maple syrup, is it brown, yellow with a touch of gold? Move the glass to a certain angle and asses the viscosity and the difference in the colors.
2. Swirl the maple syrup gently in the glass, this will allow all the aroma and bouquet to blend and rise in the glass.
3. Smell the maple syrup, try to identify the most dominant flavors. Don’t be afraid to stick your nose in your glass, that’s where the bouquet is most potent!
4. Take a small sip of maple syrup.
5. Savor the maple syrup, the dominant flavor should still be identifiable but you now can distinguish some minor aroma as well.
But more importantly than all these steps, enjoy, have fun tasting it and share with your friends!
Beware of maple syrup imitation, they might cost less but they are made with cheaper ingredients and do not taste anything like the real thing. Maple-flavored syrups are usually made with high-fructose corn syrup flavoured with sotolon which come from the fenugreek plant. They have no genuine maple content or very little and are usually thickened far beyond the normal viscosity of real maple syrup. Would you drink wine imitation or eat chocolate imitation?