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Grading of Maple Syrup using Plasmonic Tongue

Grading of Maple Syrup is a very crucial process so as to achieve optimum economics as well as its application. Scientist Prof. Jean-Francois Masson and his team developed “Plasmonic Tongue” with the aim to make process of grading more rapid and convenient.

What is Maple Syrup and Why Grading of Maple Syrup?

Maple Syrup made from the circulating fluid, or sap of sugar maple tree by boiling it to produce a thick sugary mass which is then filtered to remove impurities. Province of Quebec in eastern Canada is currently the largest world’s producer of the syrup contributing over 80% of the supply. Grading of Maple Syrup is a very crucial process so as to achieve optimum economics as well as its application.

Maple syrup is mostly used as a sweetening and thickening agent in most of the food items. There are various grades of maple syrup which are generally characterized by colour, though classification can vary between countries. In the U.S. it is classified as Grade A or B in which Grade B is the darkest available syrup. Based on taste category, maple syrup falls under 60 different types which are determined by human taste-testers.

There are various factors which influence the taste of maple syrup such as, growing region, weather, time of harvest, production process and storage methods. Syrup with premium taste quality is bottled and sold in the supermarkets while the syrups which are not so tasty are sold to the food manufacturers to use them as natural sweeteners in their products.

So, according to the end-use requirement, it is necessary to grade the maple syrup based on taste. Scientists of Canada’s Universite de Montreal developed “plasmonic tongue” in order to make the process of sorting syrup into various grades more quickly.

The study's first author Simon Forest, utilizing the gold nanoparticle reagent to analyze syrup samples – the solution could conceivably be adapted for use with products such as fruit juice or wine

Grading Maple syrup

The plasmonic tongue is actually a liquid solution containing gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) suspended in water. It is a simple calorimetric test which detects off-flavour profiles in syrup within a minute and that can be detectable by the naked eye. The original solution of gold nanoparticles suspended in water has a reddish colour.

Few drops of maple syrup are introduced into the solution, if there is no change in colour then the syrup is consumer-grade and of premium quality and if the syrup has some off-flavour and of lower taste then the colour of solution turns to blue within 10 seconds. The change in colour is observed due to the telltale combination of organic molecules which aggregates the gold nanoparticles to form blue colour.

Graphical abstract: A high-throughput plasmonic tongue using an aggregation assay and nonspecific interactions: classification of taste profiles in maple syrup

This plasmonic tongue technology was tested on 1,818 maple syrup samples from different parts of the province of Quebec, the world’s largest producer of syrup. This technology was found to be 98% accurate compared to traditional taste-testing for differentiating between consumer and industrial grade maple syrup.

Future improvement and application

Although, the plasmonic tongue is very quick and accurate technology for grading maple syrup. Still, in the current version of the test, it reports a binary type of response (yes/no or red/blue). However, the lead scientist Prof. Jean-Francois Masson said, they are working on its next version i.e. Plasmonic Tongue 2.0 which may be able to grade the syrup more finely through the intensity of change in colour to get more range of taste profile.

This technology after further development could be used onsite at growers “sugar shacks”, allowing them to easily sort their syrups into different grades very quickly.

Also, read about Who needs salt when you have electricity!


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