While maple syrup is most commonly used to coat breakfast meals, it has a lot more potential than just simply pairing well with pancakes, according to Ailis Clyne ’17, a maple technician at the Cornell Maple Program.
“Maple syrup has been typically limited to the use on pancakes. That’s what most people think it’s for. But it’s just sugar like every other type of sugar,” said Clyne, who works for the Cornell Maple Program, a group that produces maple syrups that can be found all over campus.
In addition to maple syrup production, the group also assists maple producers, consumers and other stakeholders to improve the production and use of maple syrup products.
The program helps maple syrup producers by performing research that aims to create “value-added maple products,” which are maple-based products that increase the value of maple syrup and provide an additional source of revenue for maple producers.
For instance, the program has been working to incorporate maple-based sugar into popular food items like wine and chocolate, that have not previously been made with maple ingredients.
“If [maple producers] only make syrup and sell it wholesale, they’re not making that much money per gallon on syrup,” Clyne said. “If they’re able to make an interesting and unique product with their syrup, then they can get a lot more bang for their buck and make it something to survive on.”
Clyne focuses on food products that are made with maple syrup or maple sugar.
“Maple syrup has been a growing industry for a while now, there’s almost an excess of syrup and maple sugar, so [maple producers are] always looking for new markets. In addition to that, they also like to diversify their own markets and be able to add value to their own products,” Clyne said.
Maple-syrup based products appeal to consumers looking for products with simple, natural ingredients that are sustainably and locally sourced.
“Maple syrup has the highest mineral content per serving of any sweetener,” Clyne said. “It has several vitamins, amino acids, phenolic compounds and antioxidants as well.”
Maple syrup is made by concentrating and boiling the sap of sugar maple trees, according to Clyne. During peak maple sugaring season, in late winter and early spring when nightime temperatures drop below freezing and daytime temperatures are warm, the pressure is high enough to force sap out of the tree through drilled tap holes.
As sap drips out of the tree into the collection system, it accumulates microbes such as bacteria and yeast, which break the sugar into glucose and fructose. This causes sap collected later in the season to develop higher levels of glucose and fructose, which changes the flavor and color of the syrup produced after the sap is boiled.
“Fructose and glucose have lower caramelization temperatures than sucrose, contributing to the darker colors and stronger flavors in the syrup after boiling,” Clyne said.
Clyne experiments with using darker syrups with a higher flavor, as opposed to lighter syrups. Products such as maple chocolate that are made with darker sugar retain a distinct maple flavor, which is part of their appeal to consumers.
Although maple syrup is mostly sugar, each value-added product goes through many stages of research and development before it is commercially ready. Due to maple syrup’s sugar properties, it can be difficult to work with because it is “highly variable, not just from year to year and from producer to producer, but from barrel to barrel throughout the season,” Clyne said.
“If a business person tries to experiment with [incorporating maple syrup in their products] and it doesn’t work the same way [as cane sugar], they will get frustrated and they won’t continue to purchase maple syrup to use for that product. So we come up with guidelines for how to use it to make it easier for everyone else,” Clyne said.
It is important to establish guidelines for how maple syrup should be incorporated into new food products, according to Clyne.
Clyne works with students in the food science department – a group of seniors are currently working on making chocolate and her students made maple wine last year.
Before Clyne joined the Cornell Maple Program, she studied environmental science and sustainability at Cornell. Clyne said her time as a student at Cornell helped prepare her current role as maple technician.
“I did study a bit of agriculture while I was in that program and also forestry,” Clyne said. “Maple syrup is kind of a great marriage of those two things. A lot of people refer to it as agroforestry.”
In the future, Clyne hopes to see more businesses embracing maple syrup-based products.
“I would really like to see a company, if not a local Ithaca company, take on maple syrup as their main sugar,” Clyne said. “I think that would be a great business opportunity.”