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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making Syrups

This is a re-post of an article I did last year on another site. I was reminded of it by yesterday's post.

My wife likes this sweetener called Agave Nectar. It's a natural sweetener made from the agave plant. This is the plant that is used to make tequila. For tequila, they cut up the core of the plant, roast it, then make a mash of sorts to extract the natural sugars. Once you have sugars, you can do with it as you please - syrups, crystallized sugars, or ferment it into tequila.

Hmmmm. Let's see. What do I have experience with in extracting sugars from raw materials?

Malted grains, of course! I've been brewing all-grain beers for decades. As long as I have access to malted grains, I can make a sweet liquid. Hell, in a pinch, I could malt my own grains - from my buckets-o-wheat for instance - if malted barley became unavailable.

Malted corn, rye, barley, wheat - any grain you can get to sprout and then dry out will work.
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When you brew, you mash the crushed grains by steeping them in hot water. This process transforms the starches in the grain into sugar. You then wash the sugars off of the grains (in a process called lautering). The resulting liquid is called wort (pronounced 'wert'). Depending upon the quality of your crushed grains, the temperature of the mash and a number of other factors, you will end up with a wort with a sugar content roughly in the 10-12% range.

You boil the wort, adding hops for flavoring and bitterness, and to help evaporate the liquid to increase the sugar content to the 13-18% range.

Cool it off, add the yeast, ferment, consume.

If I want to make a sweetener, I need to leave out the yeast and hops, and increase the amount of water evaporation.
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I found two primary types of syrup made in homes here in America: Maple syrup and cane syrup.

The maple syrup has a starting sugar content of around 2% - I couldn't find anything on the starting sugar content of the cane juice.

What they both had in common was the general techniques for turning the juice/sap into syrup. You boil the hell out of it, and when the temperature reaches 7 degrees above boiling - 219F - you have syrup.

What was a bit disconcerting is the volume of juice/sap you needed. To get 1 gallon of maple syrup, you need 40+ gallons of sap!

I needed to do a test.

I took a quart of water, and added a quarter pound of cane sugar. On my hydrometer, I got a reading of 1.046 specific gravity. That equals 11.5% sugar content (on something called the brix scale). So I'm starting at about the same point as I'd be by making a beer mash, and am WAY ahead of the game with regards to maple sap.

OK, a little bit of math (don't glaze over on me here!). I boiled everything down until I hit the magical 219F degrees. I ended up with right around 5.5 fluid ounces of syrup. Since I started with 34.5 fluid oz of "cane juice" (32 fl. oz of water "grows" to 34.5 fl. oz of sugar solution once the cane sugar is added), that means I reduced it by a factor of 6.27. If I take the original sugar reading of 11.5% and multiply it by the 6.27, I come up with a 72.14% sugar solution. Pretty damned close to the published maple syrup numbers of 67%.



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It's thinner than a corn syrup like Karo or imitation maple syrup. It's about the consistency of real maple syrup - kind of like the viscosity of vegetable oil. Sweet as hell, though!

I have some extra malted barley laying around, so I think I'll make up a batch of wort and give it a go [Note:  No, I still haven't done this.  Shut up.].

The cost/benefit equation is iffy, at best. You use a LOT of fuel to boil down the syrup. For the sample I made, I used my kitchen stove gas burner for an hour straight, on high. An inexpensive fuel source is the key to making this stuff economically.

I'm going to try and produce a quart of malted barley syrup, so I'll make up 2 gallons of wort to give myself some cushion. From what I've read, this should take in the neighborhood of 2-3 hours. I'll do some hard math calculations at that time, so see what the cost per ounce comes out to be.

Accept The Challenge

Developing skills to become your own "supply chain" can save your life.  In an instance like this syrup, it can make your life a bit more pleasant.

It also gives you a skill which may be in demand during hard times.  Perhaps it can be profitable during not-so-hard times.  Go to a food store and check the price of anything with the words, "organic," "natural," "sustainable" or "free-range".

The terms, "hand-made," "hand-crafted" and "old-world" tend to bring a premium price.

Home-based business, anyone?


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5 comments:

Nabil Attar said...

Did u manage to make malt syrup? Am so interested in it. I want to make it for bread. No way ican buy it around

Chief Instructor said...

Nabil, yes I made it, but wasn't too impressed with it. The flavor was way too grainy tasting. I think the problem was using to dark of a grain. I may try it another time using a VERY pale malted barley. I'll post something if I ever get around to it! ;-)

Nabil Attar said...

I managed as u described. Used half toasted and half raw.i malted my barely. I boiled it down. The taste is sweet nutty brown syrup. I let the raw steep in 65c for one hour and half to get the enzymes get use all the starch

Chief Instructor said...

That's excellent! I will give this a shot in the future.

Nabil Attar said...

But the problem that if enzymes uses all starch u end up with sweeter syrup but will not be thick enough when u boil. I shared ur page on facebook if u dont mind