Monday, May 12, 2008

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

Tasting maple syrup is all in a day’s work for sensory analyst working on grading system

Alex Roslin
Friday, April 25, 2008
The Montreal Gazette

Jacinthe Fortin has a dream job for anyone with a sweet tooth—tasting maple syrups. She is a sensory analyst at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Food Research Centre in St-Hyacinthe, and she has smacked her lips on lots of syrup in order to study differences in their flavours.

Her conclusion: syrups have almost as much variety of tastes as wine. “It’s almost scandalous to sell syrup in a can. It has notes that resemble cognac or scotch. There are almost as many different subtleties and interesting notes as wine,” she said.

Now, Fortin’s cavity-inducing research is helping pave the way for a major North American-wide reform of the grading system for maple syrup.

The current grades, in place for decades, are based on the colour of the syrup, with the lightest, most uniform product considered the best. Some producers say that system doesn’t reflect the full variety of syrups and reduces the incentive to create more flavourful, premium varieties.

The revision effort could include a wide range of new syrup classifications based on flavour and artisanal production methods, like the old-fashioned approach of evaporating sap under a wood fire.

“When someone uses a very artisanal approach, the taste is certainly more refined,” said Bernard Perreault, marketing director at the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers’ Federation.

The new classifications will likely draw on a Maple Syrup Flavour Wheel that Fortin helped develop, which identifies 13 “flavour families” for syrups like vanilla, floral and fruity, plus 91 sub-categories, including firewood, roasted dandelion root, marshmallow, butter and honey.

Consumer taste-tasting to identify the best new flavour categories is expected to start this fall, with new classifications possibly ready by next year, said Perreault.

The reform is also aimed at creating a single grading system for Canada and the U.S. At present, different classifications are in place in Quebec, the rest of Canada and various U.S. states.

The reforms are being spearheaded by the Syrup Research, Development and Technology Transfer Centre, which is affiliated with the provincial agriculture and natural-resources ministries.

TAGS: Eastern Townships, maple syrup, sugar shack

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