Many producers refer to boiling as the art of making maple syrup. Boiling on a modern evaporator is a process requiring about 45 minutes to move from the inlet at the start to the draw-off at the finish. Bringing 2% sap through a float at the back of the machine and moving the sap forward through a series of channels until it reaches 66 Brix at the opposite end may sound quite simple; however, properly boiling syrup is a very complex scientific process based on physics, chemistry and microbiology.
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When we talk about tubing systems, we have two roads to travel. One is a gravity system and the other is a vacuum system. A conventional 5/16” gravity system is not much different from running sap into a bucket. The yield is much the same as collecting sap in a bucket. When we add vacuum to a tubing system, we increase the sap yield 5% for every inch of vacuum we generate in our system. For example, if we produce 15 inches of vacuum in a line, we should be able to almost double our sap yield. The first year after installation is always the best. As time on a system accumulates, wear-and-tear hampers performance.
After producing maple syrup for over 40 years and teaching seminars on maple syrup production for close to 20, I have made or personally witnessed most of the common mistakes that lead to off flavors and poor syrup quality. In this article I will go over some, but certainly not all, of the factors that lead to poor syrup quality. The good news is that most of the factors can be controlled by producers with best practices, in turn meaning you control the quality of your syrup. The Map of Maple Off Flavors (linked above) identifies 5 primary areas where off flavors occur: Mother Nature, defoamer, processing, chemicals and others. I want to address each area in order of how they would occur from start of season to finish.
Once the season is over you need to use a little TLC when it comes to storing maple syrup so it will maintain its quality and value. If you have a lot of syrup setting in drums here are a few suggestions.