Tapping and boiling activities – February 27 to March 5, 2016
Many sugar bush operators have been tapping maple trees this week when thawed conditions have allowed it. In early southwestern regions a few larger producers who have been fully tapped since early February are reporting up to one third of a syrup crop has been produced so far after 4 or 5 successful boils. One report on syrup quality says mainly Golden syrup having a rich taste of amber has been produced so far.
In Grey / Bruce, several producers report their first sap collection and boil this past weekend. In south Quinte, a few producers report one or two sap runs and 3 boils so far where reverse osmosis is being used. Syrup quality in Quinte this week is graded as Golden with a perfect delicate taste. Sap sugar concentration ranges from 1.25 to 2.4 ⁰Brix.
In central, eastern and northern regions, many producers are still tapping trees this week, or will begin to tap the sugar bush ahead of the next thaw. No syrup yet in later regions, however producers are anticipating a nice crop this year.
Preservation of quality in maple syrup
Preservation of safe, quality food is the purpose of food processing technology. Preventing spoilage moulds in maple syrup is a challenge for all producers. Spoilage of maple syrup by mould is caused by spores of fungi, yeasts and occasionally by bacteria. Spoilage organisms are a fact of nature and are in constant interaction with organic matter, soil and moisture in our environment.
In a sugar house, spoilage spores can be present on container surfaces, equipment, on the floor and in drains, on our clothing and floating freely in the surrounding air. A clean and sanitized work area and facility will help reduce spore populations.
The making of finished maple syrup by exposing raw sap to boiling heat will kill the most common spoilage organisms during cooking. Researchers have identified several heat-resistant microbial species that can survive boiling temperatures for prolonged periods, although there remains much to learn on this topic, for maple syrup and in broader food processing research.
Spoilage organisms (spores) can re-enter into maple syrup at several access points during post-boil handling. Points of contamination include: during and after filtering, while loading bulk containers, while transferring syrup through hoses or pipes into bottling tanks and during filling of retail containers.
Safety first. During hot packing, operators often use heat-protective mitts or silicone gloves to protect their hands from burns. Protective coverings for arms as well as eye and face protection from the odd splashing drop of hot syrup are also worn. Clothing and footwear should be clean during hot packing. A hairnet or clean hat is also suggested.
Hot packing maple syrup
Maple syrup can be hot packed into retail containers at a temperature of 82 to 85 ⁰C (180 to 185 ⁰F). Temperatures hotter than 90 ⁰C (195 ⁰F) can cause dissolved minerals to precipitate out as solids, leading to cloudy syrup and a need to re-filter. Generously fill the bottles with syrup to leave a small empty head space. A small head space will minimize the amount of oxygen that will be inside the sealed container.
Many producers preheat small and medium size glass containers prior to filling with hot syrup. Preheating the glass prevents the filled container from cooling off too fast. Without preheating, mould contamination in glass containers has been a problem previously, due to failure of the hot syrup to remain adequately hot to kill spoilage spores.
Once filled, tighten the clean cap securely to seal the container. Before it has a chance to cool, carefully turn the hot bottle or jug onto its side, or turn it upside down and place it back into the cardboard shipping box. This procedure is necessary to force hot syrup into the neck and inner cap surface to help kill spores of spoilage organisms that may be present.
Leave the hot containers inverted for approximately 5 minutes to ensure adequate heat exposure. A few producers have tried placing the freshly sealed glass containers into a hot water bath for 5 minutes (with cap above the water level), maintained at around 82 ⁰C (180 ⁰F), to ensure the full heat treatment for the sealed containers.
Cool the containers quickly. Upright the containers and spread them apart on a table to cool down fairly quickly to prevent continued cooking of the syrup. A cool shaded area or a fan can help speed cooling. When the bottles are cool, check the air space for accumulation of condensed water. Inverting the container again can force any condensed water back into the syrup and out of the airspace.
A few progressive maple syrup producers have invested in cold storage facilities to store bulk syrup and to preserve quality in hot-packed retail containers that are awaiting market shelves. A cold storage temperature of 1 to 3 ⁰C (32 to 38 ⁰F) is ideal to preserve quality and prevent spoilage. A freezer will also preserve the quality of maple syrup for several years.
Mould in syrup
Where mould in syrup is found, it is best to dispose of the syrup (reference: Kathryn Hopkins, Maine Maple Extension & Henry Marckres, USDA Vermont). Mouldy syrup can be placed in the garbage, buried if the ground isn’t frozen, or thoroughly mix it into to an active, contained composter of decomposing organic material that is located a reasonable distance away from the sugar house and sap collection areas.
Consumers can react emotionally with disappointment, annoyance or anger at the appearance of mould in their food, often evaluating the product against the money they have spent. A low percentage of people can experience allergic reactions to specific mould spores. The presence of spoilage, in this case mould in maple syrup, can create doubt about safety and quality.
Researchers at the University of Maine and at Carleton University in Ontario have identified the species of moulds that can be found contaminating maple syrup, being primarily common food spoilage organisms. Maple researchers recommend disposing of mouldy syrup, similar to other foods. Basically, use good common sense and accept it as lost product. Try harder next time to prevent mould in syrup.
In summary, if syrup becomes mouldy – dispose of it. Keep your customers happy and coming back for more of your quality maple syrup.