A Convoy of Flavor Wheels

A couple of winters ago I made made my own maple syrup in Vermont. It started out more as a reminiscence of when my Dad would do it, tediously cooking down the sap over the two burners of a Coleman stove. Or maybe it was to relive the childhood smell memories of wood smoke and tree sugar forged in local sugarhouses. It is almost sugaring time again and that reminded me of something peculiar that happened when making that syrup last time.

It didn’t taste like maple syrup. It tasted wonderful, but nothing like what a New Englander would call essentially maple. Then I remembered the maple syrup flavor wheel I saw on the wall at Bascom’s, the place I’d bought the used sap buckets, lids, spouts, a razor sharp drill bit, and a hydrometer.

I saw that wheel from a distance and thought to myself, “C’mon, how many flavors can maple syrup really have?” I looked closely at it. There was mention of clove, smoke, molasses, forest humus, dried herbs, plastic, you name it. It wasn’t until I had that sap boiling – this was sap that only ran for two days before cold weather stopped the flow for anther few weeks – that I became aware of a corn-syrupy aroma. It was definitely corn. Then I discerned lightly toasted marshmallows, vanilla, and cocoa powder. Everything was clean. I hadn’t made candy or cake in any pots. It was the syrup made from the earliest runnings of sap from my trees that grew in a certain place on shallow soil atop slate ledges made of fossilized Lake Hitchcock clays, those clays made of the fine, fluvial residues of glacial till. I was befuddled – there was no trace of maple.

So here’s that flavor wheel, courtesy of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The way my mind works, or doesn’t on a given day, naturally leads me to think about other flavor wheels. Sadly, the first thing to pop up was “whatever happened to Flavor Flav?” The rapper with big clock around his neck.

I don’t know if he likes maple syrup. Hard to believe, but true, I’ve met people who don’t like the taste of real maple syrup having been brought up on the artificial kind. Flavor Flav has all that gold dentistry. It’s called a grill in case you missed that one on TV.


Grillin' 'n chillin' with Flavor Flav. Take that Bobby Flay. (Source: http://www.themoderndaypirates.com)

Slightly more seriously, I began to think about all of the other flavor wheels out there. One I use regularly is Dr. Morton Meilgaard’s beer flavor wheel, though I admit that it isn’t as robust as I wish it were. It doesn’t list “deteriorating vinyl from the dashboard of an ’87 Buick driven by a four-pack-a-day smoker of menthols” or “burnt hair caught fire in the bunsen burner when she leaned too close to her lab partner.” But I’d say it is normally adequate.

There are flavor wheels for wine, cheese, tea, cannabis… all sorts of things. In fact, I’m inspired to start collecting as many flavor wheels as I can.

Here’s a good one for coffee, from gourmet-coffee.com.

And another fun one for chocolate from Chocolopolis. It is a little hard to read on the light background, however.

And the last one for today, also hard to read on a light background, is the Cognac Aroma Wheel from Cognac.com. It is arranged by season of the year. Ahhh. Cheers! TPJ


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LAP
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 12:48:32

    How about a Cheese Wheel?


  2. Darren
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 00:17:15

    I’ve used the beer one before, looks easier than it is


  3. Tracey Grossman
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 11:03:21

    Having worked at Trader Joe’s for about 9 years I only had access to pure maple syrup (unless, of course, I wanted to shop somewhere else). My kids were raised on it. I’ll never forget one morning when my son, Shelby, returned from staying at a friends house. Shelby said he didn’t like the syrup they had for their pancakes because it was too sugary-sweet. Sortof an “aha” moment. Not sure where our brand was on the flavor wheel. I now pay premium for pure maple syrup at our local Safeway because I refuse to shop at Trader Joe’s. Regardless, I’m not going back. OH, learned a trick for folks that want to serve pure maple syrup to their kids and (due to the price) are afraid they will accidentally pour a cup or more on their cakes. Leave the foil/paper seal on the bottle and make smaller holes in it. It will slow the pour. Love your blog!


    • palatejack
      Feb 26, 2011 @ 11:14:17

      Hi Tracey – I love the holes in the foil idea. Most syrup made by larger producers is made from sap collected over several weeks and combined in large tanks. The sap goes from confectionery to maply to dark maple/molassesy/oily as the season progresses. By combining a range of sap you get the expected maple flavor. I’d like to see smaller producers make ‘varietals,’ for instance, ‘first week,’ ‘red maple grove,’ things like that. Thanks for reading. Cheers, TPJ


  4. bmcdb
    Feb 11, 2013 @ 22:47:03

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing.


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