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Real deal or sneaky swap? Ontario researchers working on tool to test maple syrup purity


Real maple syrup can be pricey, so it’s no surprise that some people might try and swap it out for a cheaper version.

Production of this so-called ‘liquid gold’ can be impacted by weather fluctuations and production quotas. There have also been cases of smuggling and mislabeling product, as well as the 2016 theft of 9,500 barrels of maple syrup from a Quebec warehouse often referred to as the “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist.”

Less than honest operators are known to mix genuine maple syrup with other syrups or sweeteners.

“Corn syrup is one-tenth the value of maple syrup,” says Maria Corradini, an associate professor at the University of Guelph.

Researchers in the school’s Department of Food Science and Department of Integrative Biology are hoping they can help producers – and consumers – by creating a rapid testing tool that can identify whether the sweet stuff is the real deal.


Researchers are using something called fluorescence fingerprinting.

Certain molecules in the maple syrup glow when exposed to UV and visible light. Those can be analyzed to determine – and create a 3D map – of their chemical composition.

Maple syrup samples being tested for purity at the University of Guelph. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV Kitchener)

“This method can potentially be used to differentiate between pure maple syrup and potentially adulterated maple syrup,” explains Maleeka Singh, a food science PhD candidate.

Researchers say they can detect adulterants even in quantities as low as one per cent.

Other fingerprinting techniques, such as DNA barcoding, aren’t compatible with maple syrup testing.

Sap undergoes extensive processing to transform it into syrup and that can cause its DNA to degrade, say the researchers.

They also point out that a light-based tool is “non-invasive, efficient and affordable,” and results can be obtained within minutes.

Researchers using UV light to test the purity of maple syrup samples at the University of Guelph. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV Kitchener)


Wally Sallans, the owner of Maple Tap Farm in New Dundee, Ont., started making maple syrup at the age of 14. He recently wrapped up another tree tapping season, and says making ‘liquid gold’ takes a lot of work.

“It’s about 40 to one usually, what you have to boil,” Sallans explains. “Take 40 gallons of water out to get a gallon of syrup.”

He knows that some people try to trick the system.

“It doesn’t make you feel good that somebody is trying to duplicate it and make something that isn’t the pure product,” Sallans says. “To be legally maple syrup it has to be at least 66 BRIX, which is like 66 per cent sugar.”

Wally Sallans, the owner of Maple Tap Farm, in New Dundee, Ont. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV Kitchener)

University of Guelph researchers say they’re close to solving this sticky situation.

“What is more Canadian than maple syrup?” Singh says. “I really think this type of research can really impact Canada’s product image.” Top Stories

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