More on maple: Grades and flavours

In Canada, maple syrup is classified into three grades and five colours: Canada No. 1 syrup is divided into “extra light,” “light” and “medium” colours; Canada No. 2 is also called “amber” and Canada No. 3 is “dark.” Unlike the USDA classifications, we have no grades “A” or “B”, though USDA Grade A is essentially equivalent to Canada No. 1, and USDA Grade B encompasses Canada No. 2 and 3.

Unfortunately, because of how the maple syrup classifications are worded, the grading really tells you very little about the quality of the flavour. In general, though, the intensity of the flavour increases as the colour deepens, so amber is more intensely flavoured than extra light. Extra light is mostly considered to be best used as pancake syrup, but personally, I use medium or amber for pretty much everything.

So what is the flavour of maple syrup, exactly? It’s mostly made up of sucrose, with some glucose and fructose, and a small amount of acid (mostly malic acid). Its main flavour components are vanillin, caramel flavours that are created as the sap is reduced to syrup, and sotolon, a compound that gives maple syrup its distinctive flavour and is also found in fenugreek, a spice frequently used in curry powder blends. It is also found in many dessert wines, especially amontillado and oloroso sherry.

With this information, I decided to do a flavour pairing experiment using “Predicted aroma similarity based on overlap of one or a few volatiles,” as Martin Lersch puts it, by combining maple syrup and curry powder in a basic shortbread cookie (using Michael Ruhlman’s 1-2-3 cookies from Ratio as a template). I used Canada No. 3 syrup in the cookies in order to get the strongest maple flavour out of the relatively small amount of syrup I included. The results were tasty, and I can definitely see leveraging this aroma similarity in both sweet and savoury dishes in the future.

How to make maple-curry shortbread

120 g. butter, softened
30 g. granulated sugar
30 g. Canada No. 3 (dark) maple syrup
180 g. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. curry powder
Pinch salt

Whisk together the flour, curry powder and salt. Cream together the butter, sugar and maple syrup until lightened. Mix in the flour, then form into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours until firm. Slice into 3/8-inch slices, and bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Serve with a glass of oloroso sherry.

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