Researchers from the University of Montreal have developed a device that visually detects molecules in maple sap to predict what the syrup will taste like. This will help growers struggling with lower quality syrup at the end of the season.

“At the end of the season, there is less sugar and more amino acids in maple sap,” says Jean-François Masson, lead author of the study published this month in the journal Food Science.

Maple sap has more sugar early in the season because waking up the tree requires a burst of energy. “The problem is more present in eastern Quebec, because of the greater climatic variations between night and day,” says the chemist from the University of Montreal.

Growers, about 100 of whom are using the rapid test kits in a pilot project this spring, will have many choices with these results. “They will be able to stop taking water from certain trees, or do separate productions, or even favor certain trees over others in their sugar bush,” says Mr. Masson. The kit costs a few hundred dollars and will be marketed in 2024.

The Montreal chemist was contacted by the association bringing together the province’s 13,300 maple syrup producers to develop this test. He is also working on visual blood tests to detect diseases like COVID-19.

Its visual analysis involves a “plasmonic language”, a visual compound detection tool. These compounds are produced by adding gold nanoparticles to the liquid to be tested. The term “plasmonics” refers to the optical properties of compounds formed by the fusion of gold and unwanted or desirable molecules of the liquids under test.

What is the next step ? “We want to find other liquids to test, perhaps in food,” says Masson. Plasmonic tongues have been used to test the quality of whisky, for example.