The Different Colours and Tastes of Maple Syrup


Many of our customers ask us how and why syrups differ in colour. Some assume that the darker colour syrups must be boiled longer and as a result, produce thicker syrup. This is a misconception that I’d like to clarify.


At the beginning of the production season (end of Feb, beginning of March) the weather outside is cold. Sap starts to flow and is very transparent (clear) in colour. The 2% sugar content of sap is a sucrose sugar. During the few weeks of our production season (March to the beginning of April), the outside temperature continues to warm and snow melts. This warming and subsequent heat enables microorganisms (bacteria) within the environment to grow. Although sterile within the tree, sap is rapidly colonized by a variety of microorganisms upon exiting the tree.


The enzymatic reaction caused by these microorganisms on sap causes some level of conversion on sucrose into the invert sugars, glucose and fructose. As the seasons progresses this level of conversion increases in volume due to increased microorganisms in the environment. At the beginning the impact is minimal, but as the outside temperature warms further, invert sugars increase within the sap and subsequent maple syrup. Microorganisms double in size every 10 minutes. By the end of the season maple syrup, although still predominately a sucrose sugar (70%), have invert sugars levels (glucose and fructose) comprising roughly 30% total sugar content. This sugar chemical reaction in conjunction with the carmelization and Mallard processes that occurs when sap is boiled, cause the syrup to become gradually darker in colour throughout the season.


The 5 different colour grades (Ontario grading act) thus reflect the time of the season the syrup was produced. At the beginning of the season, syrup is graded “extra light”, then “light”, then “medium”, then “amber” and finally “dark”. As all syrups need to have a density of a minimum 66 ½ % sugar content all syrup contain the same viscosity (consistency/thickness) levels. The darker syrup only “looks” to be thicker (tricks the eye) in consistency due to its dark brown colour as compared with the light yellow colour of syrup produced at the beginning of the season.


The stronger maple flavour that is thought to be present in later grades also occurs as a result of combining the carmelization (browning) reaction with the Mallard and bacteria enzymatic reactions. The Mallard reaction results when amino acids present within the sap/syrup react with the sugars during the boiling process.


Over the next few years a new North American standard for grading and colour coding with be implemented for all producing regions (Ont., Que., N.B. and the U.S.). To retail maple syrup, one new Grade “Grade A” will be implemented with  4 colour codes “golden” “amber” “dark” , and “very dark’.

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