The density of maple syrup is often misunderstood by consumers and probably the one thing I get asked the most after the grades of maple syrup. We put a lot of weight on flavor and grade, but checking for density is just as important.
What is Density
Simply put, density is how much mass can be crammed together to take up space. If you had 2 bags of the same size and one bag was heavier than the other, the heavier bag is more dense. We can go through the scientific steps to figure out the density of maple syrup or just take the word of scientists. Maple syrup has a density of 1.37 grams per milliliter, heavier than water, milk and corn syrup but not as dense as honey.
Checking the Density of Maple Syrup
When maple syrup is made, the sugarmaker wants to draw the syrup off the evaporator at the correct density. When the temperature of the syrup reaches 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, it has reached the correct thickness. A hydrometer is also used to confirm that the maple syrup is at the legal standard.
At the Carman Brook Farm we store the syrup we made during the production season in barrels to be bottled throughout the year. We pump a barrel into our canning unit and reheat that syrup to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit to make our density check. Our hot water jacket syrup canner heats 40 gallons of syrup from the outside to the inside. To ensure that all of the syrup is the same temperature, we spend several minutes stirring the maple syrup.
Using a stainless cup and hydrometer, a sample of syrup is tested. Since the syrup is not at the high temperature that was necessary to produce it earlier in the spring, we use a sliding chart. The chart adjusts what the brix should be, when the syrup is at a specific temperature. The shot to the left is my trusty and very old and well used chart. I’ve been given newer ones, but this one is my favorite. I’ll have to ask that you please disregard all the smudge marks.
Official Vermont Density of Maple Syrup
The Vermont Maple Products Regulations includes a standard for maple syrup density. In section 8 of the regulations the following paragraph is what the state mandates as a minimum standard. The regulations apply to all the grades of maple syrup. I’ve been told that the darker syrup is thicker, when it actually isn’t any thicker than the light syrup. I think that the flavor of darker syrup sticks to your taste buds a little longer, giving a thicker impression.
“All grades of packaged maple syrup shall have a minimum density matching its temperature, as indicated on the following chart, which is equivalent to 36 degrees Baume Modulus 145 or 66.9 degrees Brix at 60 degrees Fahrenheit on instruments calibrated at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or other equivalent measurement of density, as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.”
We keep production records for every batch of syrup that is canned. The production records contain the density readings. I’ve summed it all up in about 500 words in this post, but its actually a lengthy and tedious process. There are a lot of details to taking an accurate density reading and a lot of patience is required. We take the reading at least twice. If another person is in the sugarhouse, we’ll take each person’s readings and compare notes.
Dangers of Density Testing
After we took these pictures, I climbed back up to take a real density reading. The picture taking was distracting as Jon was having a lot of fun snapping photos of me and taking “action” shots. Sadly, while coming down off the ladder, I fell and broke my foot. I had started working on this post about a month ago. I really dragged my feet on this topic, no pun intended. With the extra couch time I’m getting I thought I’d finish it up and share. I’ll be more than available to answer your questions and comments in the following weeks.