What’sap’pening around the province!
Maple syrup production has continued across the province these past few weeks. In early southwestern regions from Sarnia, Chatham-Kent to Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara region, many producers report they have processed 75% to 90% of the provincial average yield of 1.1 L syrup per tap.
In earliest southwest sugar bushes, where new tight vacuum is used for sap harvest, syrup yields of 1.6 L to 1.9 L syrup per tap has been processed. In this area, colour classes and crop yield percent include; Golden 5%, Amber 65%, Dark 25%, Very Dark 5% with a little more Very Dark syrup expected next week.
Due to unforeseen complications with early season marketing this year and pancake house operations, several producers in early southwest areas have filled all available bulk storage containers and will stop processing new syrup the end of this week, Friday March 20. Many producers are now putting their heads together, in Ontario and internationally to come up with improved and alternative marketing ideas.
In central areas including Prince Edward County, producers report they have processed 0.5 to 0.9 L syrup per tap so far. Colour class is mainly Golden and Amber syrup with Dark syrup just beginning. Sugar sand has been abundant over the past two weeks causing some grief for filtering, for others the syrup is filtering clear.
For Grey and Bruce, the first boil ranged from February 25 to March 8. Sap sugar concentration started at 2.3 ⁰Brix and has dropped to 1.8 ⁰Brix this past week. One sugar bush is still running at 2.7 ⁰Brix. Sap flow volume and clarity has been good to very good. The percent of syrup crop ranges from 30% to 80% of an average harvest so far. The highest yield is 1.4 L syrup per tap and counting. Mainly Golden syrup has been processed changing to Amber syrup this week, very nice maple flavours. One producer began with Amber syrup then changed to Golden. Lots of sugar sand is reported, making filtering a challenge. One producer concentrating sap to 25 ⁰Brix through their reverse osmosis reported very little sugar sand and no problems filtering syrup.
In northern regions including Algonquin, Algoma, Ottawa Valley and Thunder Bay, the snow is still two or more feet deep. Snowshoes are still needed to get around. Sap sugar concentration remains high at 2.7 to 3.2 ⁰Brix. Golden and Amber syrups have been produced with excellent maple flavour, Dark or darker Amber syrup is expected next week. The season is still early in the north, producers are preparing for good sap runs next week after the trees thaw.
The sap forecast
The extended weather forecast is calling for very cold temperatures over the early weekend in most areas of the province and will freeze sugar bush trees. Thawing of sap may not occur until early next week in southern areas, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week in late northern regions.
After the freeze, good conditions for renewed sap flow are forecast for next week in all regions. Producers may see a lightening in colour class, which often occurs in freshly processed syrup that follows a deep freeze. Sap flow is expected to continue in mid-season and late season areas for more than a week, however will depend on a slow transition from winter to spring in each region.
Early southwest regions can keep a close watch on bud development on soft maples and sugar maples for growth. Buddy off-flavours in sap can appear quickly as dormant buds expand. Buddy off-flavour in sap generally appears in soft maples a few days to a week ahead of sugar maple trees, depending on warming air temperatures and clear sunny conditions.
Managing Mold and Hot Packing Maple Syrup
Preventing spoilage mold from developing in maple syrup retail containers can be a challenge for many maple syrup producers. Even after hot packing techniques have been mastered for years, one can’t let their guard down for a moment.
To help reduce the occurrence of mold in retail containers, ensure that maple syrup is concentrated during cooking to the correct minimum density, or sugar concentration of 66.0 ⁰Brix (the ideal density is 66.5 ⁰Brix to 67.5 ⁰Brix for best quality and ‘mouth feel’). Syrup density should not be higher than 68.9 ⁰Brix to prevent crystallization of sucrose sugar in the syrup. Even at correct densities however, syrup can still develop mold if not properly hot packed.
The following photos and graphics can help explain the important steps involved in hot packing maple syrup into retail containers. Without pre-heating, glass retail containers can be a challenge to hot pack successfully, particularly the smaller sizes. Plastic and tin retail containers, unlike glass, may not require pre-heating before filling with hot syrup to prevent mold. Plastic and tin containers still need to be properly hot packed and inverted for several minutes to prevent mold growth.
Increasing the hot pack temperature above 90 ⁰C (194 ⁰F) can cause new sugar sand (niter) to precipitate as solid particles, causing the syrup to become cloudy and require filtering again.
Pasteurization of food
Hot packing maple syrup is a pasteurization process that is applied to both the syrup and the inner surfaces of sealed retail containers. Pasteurization is a relatively mild heat treatment in which foods are heat treated to temperatures less than 100 ⁰C. Pasteurization is widely used throughout the food processing industry in food safety HACCP planning, to kill disease causing organisms and cause the destruction or reduction of spoilage organisms. Pasteurization temperatures are not hot enough to sterilize the food of all microorganisms, however it is sufficient to make it safe to eat and extend the shelf life from spoilage for days, weeks or months depending on the food type, the heating temperature and duration of the heat treatment. Reference: Safe Foods 360 Whitepaper Series, 2014, Thermal Processing of Food.
If mold is a reoccurring problem after hot packing, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from an experienced maple syrup producer, food inspector, maple extension specialist, equipment dealer or other maple industry professionals.
Thank you to everyone who contributed crop and processing information for this report.
It is interesting to see some of the differences and similarities between regions.
I hope everyone meets their production goals safely and in good health.