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Grading syrup old method vs. new method

Dave Klish

A few years ago the maple industry adopted a new grading system. Before that, thru the maple producing world there were several grading standards, states and provinces in Canada each had their own grading system. This confused the consumers, if someone bought a particular grade they really liked, and then bought syrup from another area the names and standards of the grades might be quite different.

With the new grading system this has all changed, now syrup made in one area is graded the same as any other location that makes maple syrup. Along with this change came some new technology. The old method of grading (gauging what color the syrup is in) was done primarily using “temporary grading kits”. These kits were manufactured every year and had an expiration date, generally under 2 years. The reason was that the samples in the kit darkened with age. Those samples were not even maple syrup, but rather glycerine with some burnt sugar to add the exact amount of color to define that grade. Each grade bottle in the sample kit was the darkest a maple syrup sample could be to be graded with the name associated with that color. Soon after the new grading system was introduced, with all grades based on the percentage of light transmission for grading the color (several other points I will cover later) a company invented a test instrument to read the % of light passing thru a sample and this instrament was within price reach of even small producers. It utilizes a small “cuvette” made of glass into which the maple syrup being graded is put, with a full line on the cuvette. Not filling it exactly to the line, not slightly under or over will result in an erronius reading. Once filled the test instrament is turned on. A push of a button turns it on and another push (there is only one button) shows on the the screen that the reference sample should be inserted. This sample is a cuvette filled only with 100% glycerine, supplied with the test kit. That cuvette is inserted, the cover is closed and the button is pushed again. In 3-4 seconds the screen shows 100%, indicating 100% of the light from an internal bulb has passed thru the glycerine. This test is done with every test, because the amount of light from the bulb will vary as the battery in the instrament slowly loses strength. The instrament screen will also indicate if a new battery is needed. After the glycerine sample gives a 100% reading, the instrament is opened, that cuvette is removed and a cuvette containing the sample of syrup being graded is inserted. The button is pushed again and 3-4 seconds later the screen displays the percentage of light that passed through that sample of pure maple syrup. From there it is simple. A sample passing 100-75% of the light is golden color, delicate taste, 74-50% is Amber color, rich taste, 49-25% is Dark color, Robust taste and less than 25% is very dark color, strong taste.

Then comes the other requirements for that batch of syrup to be graded according the those stated above. One test is that the taste must fall within the norm for that grade of syrup, another is that there must not be any off aftertaste. Another point is that the syrup must be clear (filtered so it sparkles). If all of these are met, that batch of syrup can be labeled at the grade indicated by the % of light transmission. If a sample fails any one of those tests it must be sold as process grade, which can not be sold the the end consumer, but rather to bulk buyers who have the ability to process the syrup for other uses, such as cereal coating, flavoring in various products and other uses too. The only exception is if a sample is not crystal clear, it can be heated and filtered again. In that case it needs to be tested again, because every time syrup is re-heated it gets darker.

Hopefully this helps more than confuses those who read this post. I find the biggest advantage is the simplicity of getting the color of the syrup for grading. Before, using the temporary grade kits we had to fill a specific sample bottle then hold that up to bright natural light in a test tray to compare it with th official samples in the kit. The test tray had a window cut out of the sides of the wooden tray to allow the natural light to pass thru. Then it was sometimes a guessing game if the color of the syrup was lighter, the same as or slightly darker than the official grade bottle. Days with less than bright natural light (and we have a lot of them in maple season) also made reading the grades more difficult. This new method removes that.

With all of those factors, there is one other factor that is not related to the grade of the syrup. that is “where was the syrup made”? The soils and weather patterns where the trees are makes a big difference, much like fine wine, pure maple syrup from different areas has a different taste, even though it is the same grade. That is where we are very lucky and also why as I buy maple sap from other producers to supplement my sap needs, I do not buy it from those who are not close to my location. My area “according to reports from my repeat customers” seems to taste better. Years ago I ran out of syrup and had to refer my customers to a couple of other producers who were 15-20 miles from me, all of those customers returned to me in the following years, saying the other syrup, while good, was just not the same. They preferred my syrup. We are blessed indeed!

While we are a small producer, we still serve a large area. We have customers who order from all over the United States and while I don’t ship overseas, I have gotten reports of several of my customers who have shipped it to friends and business associates in other countries. We sell a lot of our syrup locally, from the sugarhouse and from our 1 retail outlet, plus a great demand on our website for our syrup to be shipped to customers and to their relatives. Business is good.

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