CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 14 Sci-Fi & Fantasy - Page 40

When you pick a bottle of maple syrup up off the grocery store shelf, its label typical- ly won’t say anything about forest ecology and seasonal rhythms, or microclimates and microflora, or the particular subtleties of the producer’s approach to their craft. In most cases, the only information that offers you any idea of what that particular syrup might taste like is the grade. When it comes to labeling, maple syrup is graded and classified by color alone, but the grading system has changed significant- ly over the past decade. While experts have established new, internationally agreed-upon grades, the old grading systems persist both on bottles and in the minds of consumers. Say goodbye to Canada’s No. 1 through No. 3 and the United States’ light, medium, and dark amber. These are all now referred to as golden, amber, dark, and very dark. To define where light, amber, and dark begin and end, producers reach for a spectrophotometer with matched square optical cells that have a 10-millimetre light path at a wavelength of 560 nanometres. Color values are expressed in percentage of light transmission, and the higher the light transmission the lighter the grade. A golden maple syrup must be above 75%, while dark and very dark syrups are well below 50%. Even if the industry demanded that we indi- cate the light transmission on the label at the time of bottling—because maple syrup tends to darken somewhat over time—it would eventually be incorrect. Unfortunately, the new grading system still makes no effort to enlighten consumers on the range of maple syrup’s qualities and char- acteristics or to encourage appreciation of its many subtleties. Understanding and seeking out these subtleties elevates the experience of tasting syrup to a celebration of geogra- phy, ecology, history, and culture. The color and flavour of syrup shift through- out the season for many reasons. Climate, microclimate (the unique characteristics of a particular location), season, and technology all play important roles. Syrups produced in late February are typically very light in color and delicate in taste. As the season progress- es, temperatures rise and life begins to stir in the forest. Enzymes in the tree begin to change the sugars, as do bacteria and yeast endemic to the forest, that become estab- lished in the tubing and buckets. Swelling maple buds release phenolic compounds that contribute to the darkening of syrup and the strengthening of its taste. The influence of microflora and the maple tree’s awakening biological system on the evolution of a maple syrup’s flavour cannot be overstressed. Nor can the impact of the systems for collecting, filtering, and boiling