Scientists and maple syrup producers develop a rapid test that analyzes the quality of maple sap

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All right! Credit: Amélie Philibert | Montreal university

Quebec is a leader in the production of maple syrup and its “liquid gold” is recognized worldwide for its quality. To maintain this high standard, the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers Association has partnered with scientists from the University of Montreal to develop a portable test to predict syrup quality based on the sap harvested.

Called the “COLORI test”, the method developed by UdeM chemists and mathematicians has been scientifically validated. The results were published Tuesday, March 21 in the journal ACS Food Science & Technology.

“Thanks to the support of the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Industrial Bioprocesses of Quebec, we were able to develop the COLORI test, patent it and produce the first 250 units,” said Jean-François Masson, professor of chemistry at UdeM. and co-responsible author of the scientific article. “All the tests have already been used by the maple syrup producers who participated in our project.”

Fast and simple nanotechnology

The new COLORI test belongs to the family of nanotechnologies, its use is simple and fast. It starts with a small tube containing a solution of gold nanoparticles, to which several drops of sap are added. Amino acids and amines, which correlate with specific changes in the flavor of maple syrup, bind to the gold nanoparticles, causing them to cluster together and changing the way light interacts with the solution. As a result, the solution changes color from red to blue, a change that can be observed with the naked eye within minutes.

The main advantage of this test is that it can be used at the sugar shack, where the results can be immediately interpreted and put into practice. This highly sensitive and therefore highly efficient method provides reliable information on maple sap properties in real time to support the production of high quality maple syrup.

“We encourage partnerships between businesses and the public research community to create innovative solutions that address specific needs and are commercially viable,” said Consortium CEO Mohammed Benyagoub. “The innovative COLORI project is part of our mission to strengthen industry-university relations and collaborative research by helping Quebec’s maple syrup industry ensure optimal purity of the syrup it puts on the market.

From detection to prediction

The COLORI test for identifying undesirable compounds in maple products is based on an earlier method developed in Masson’s laboratory in 2018 in collaboration with Simon Forest, then Masson’s research officer and now project manager for the development and research applied to the association of producers. The first version of the test correlated the intensity of maple syrup’s natural flavor profiles (such as flavor profiles associated with sap and bud characteristics) to the test result.

“The COLORI test, which is now in its second version, has become predictive: it works with maple sap and can determine whether the compounds present in the sap harvested by the producer will yield high quality maple syrup” , explains Forest, who also holds a master’s degree in chemistry from UdeM. “The test has proven useful as a decision-making tool: for example, to decide whether or not to boil a sap that does not produce the desired quality of syrup.”

To move from the first-generation COLORI test to the predictive COLORI test, which provides information on the organoleptic profile of the sap, the two chemists asked QMSP to co-develop the new version of the test using a participatory science approach. This new COLORI test, which requires minimal infrastructure at the sugar shack level, was made possible thanks to the involvement of several maple syrup producers who participated in three phases of field tests.

Masson and Forest also called on the research team of Morgan Craig, professor of mathematics at UdeM, to build a mathematical model that predicts the type of maple syrup that will be produced based on the molecular profile of the sap. , including its amino acids. “Their model gives an idea of ​​what the final product will be and allows maple producers to better manage their production,” explained Mr. Masson. Credit: University of Montreal

Soon widely available

Maple production is one of the main drivers of Quebec’s biofood sector. The maple syrup industry contributed $1 billion to Quebec’s gross domestic product in 2022. With 13,300 maple syrup producers and a total production of 95 million kilograms in 2022, the province is the world’s leading maple syrup producer. maple, representing nearly three-quarters of world production.

To establish its market value, Quebec maple syrup is rigorously tasted, inspected, checked and graded according to the criteria established in the Maple Syrup Marketing Agreement, a marketing agreement developed by the SQMP. The large-scale deployment of the COLORI test would allow maple syrup producers to inexpensively evaluate and classify maple sap before transforming it into maple syrup and would help them manage their production throughout the season.

“Quality is a top priority for Quebec maple syrup producers,” said Luc Goulet, president of the producers’ association. “The COLORI test, which will be widely available from 2024, offers our industry a unique tool to refine our processes and maintain the reputation of Quebec maple syrup.

More information: Simon Forest et al, Prediction of Maple Syrup Quality from Maple Sap with a Plasmonic Tongue and Ordinal Modeling of Mixed Effects, ACS Food Science & Technology (2023). DOI: 10.1021/acsfoodscitech.2c00397

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