The Science Of Maple
What does maple syrup taste like?
The complex flavours of maple syrup are expressed in subtle accents of caramel, berries and wood, lending it unique gastronomic qualities.
The sweetness, flavour and aroma of maple enhance cooking. It’s a great ingredient to encourage young and old alike to eat nutritious foods such as vegetables, fish, tofu and milk.
Taste: under the microscope
There are five basic tastes: salty; sweet; sour; bitter; and umami. Each taste has distinct properties that influence the way flavour is conveyed and appreciated.
Salt is a preservative that regulates hydration and amplifies the sense of taste. Sweet provides caloric nutrition and pleasure. Sour reveals taste and promotes absorption. Bitter stimulates digestion and umami (the savoury quality of taste, often referred to as “deliciousness”) delivers a lasting sensation in the mouth.
It’s all in your head
Taste and smell are intimately linked and are mutually responsible for the “gustatory” experience – the way we appreciate foods. When you put food in your mouth, taste receptor cells on the tongue spring into action. These taste buds generate a nervous impulse that is transmitted to the brain in less than 150 milliseconds.
The taste signals intersect with tactile signals from the mouth (which assess the texture and temperature of food) and olfactory signals from the nose (which monitor aroma). In fact, 80% of taste perception relies on smell – and that doesn’t account for other senses such as sight (a well-presented dish is more inviting) and hearing (think of the pleasurable crunch of crisps).
The secret of maple syrup's unique flavour
To make maple syrup, you must heat the sap of maple trees, triggering the all-important Maillard reaction. Observed by the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard in 1912, this is the interaction between amino acids and sugar when food is subjected to high temperatures. It causes the browning and caramelisation of food when it’s cooked.
One theory is that the Maillard reaction creates the perception of umami, or deliciousness, in maple syrup, which would explain why maple syrup enhances the taste of foods so well.
Maple and Japanese cuisine
The flavour of a huge array of cuisines is enhanced when maple syrup is used in dish preparation. In particular, maple reacts with amino acids found in the standard ingredients of Japanese cooking, such as mirin and soy sauce.
Maple syrup also contains the aromatic compounds vanillin and syringaldehyde, also found in smoked products (e.g. bonito flakes), which are widely used in Asian cuisine. Soy sauce marries brilliantly with maple syrup because they share two aromatic molecules, furfural and sotolon.
Lots of other ingredients in Japanese cooking are “chemically compatible” with maple syrup, cementing a culinary marriage made in heaven.
Hundreds of Delicious Recipes
Maple is a special addition to any recipe, from starters and snacks to sumptuous desserts. Find one that’s perfect for you, your family and friends.