Fake Maple Syrup

I wrote a really positive post on Tabasco Sauce a few days ago, so in the interests of journalistic balance (and so I don’t seem like just another product flack), I decided to do a negative piece this time.

So today you’re going to read a piece condemning fake “syrup”.

A polemic. A denunciation, dripping with invective. A jeremiad. A screed, if you will.

Okay, so maybe you can tell by now that I, uh, don’t really like fake syrup. And it’s not just the taste. It’s more the phony-ness. The chemicals. The fact that we already get too much “high fructose corn syrup” in our diets as it is.

So to convince you, and to turn your stomach a little bit today, I’d like you to try a quick little exercise with me:

Let’s take a quick look at a highly typical phony syrup: Aunt Jemima. I’d like you to take a look at their “Original” syrup product page. After you go to that link, click where it says “Ingredients.”

Wow. Ewww. So this is what you are putting into your body when you eat this brownish-colored industrial goo:


Do they think they are doing a good job selling the product by putting that information on their webpage? I’d call that some pretty suspect work from the marketing department. Most people (including me) can’t even pronounce “sodium hexametaphosphate” much less do we want to ingest it. PS: does anybody out there care to weigh in on what the heck that chemical actually does? Is it toxic?

Maybe the hardworking webmasters at The Quaker Oats Company should just stick with simple pictures of the bottle, a smiling drawing of Aunt Jemima’s face… and just leave out the nauseating ingredients part

This is why you should ONLY use real maple syrup in your home. It’s delicious, it’s actually a real product, it keeps nearly forever, and it doesn’t contain sodium hexametawhatever.

To learn more about pure maple syrups from New York State, I encourage you to start with the New York State Maple Producers Association website. They have a thorough list of syrup producers here.

And if you want to learn about different syrup grades, take a look here. Keep in mind that in addition to New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania are well-known and highly regarded maple syrup producing states.

PS: My personal favorite is the New York Grade A Dark Amber!

Related Topics:
An Ode To Tabasco Sauce


Anonymous said...

Is your preference for New York State maple syrup mere nostalgia or are you willing to hold it up to the golden glory from Vermont, New Hampshire or even Maine?

Your post reminded me of an article from the New York Times that I've posted here. Map;le suyrup tastings? Perhaps taking things a bit too far...

December 20, 2006
Fresh From Vermont's Maples, a Taste of Terroir
THE five tasters picked up the green vial marked No. 973, swirled, sniffed and sipped. Then there was silence.

Some immediately picked up their pens and began scribbling notes on their sensory scorecards -- a three out of seven for vanilla, two out of seven for nutmeg, zero for black licorice, smoke, kiwi and banana.

The rest quietly pondered the flavor as they rolled the liquid across their tongues.

''Sometimes I wonder if we should taste this on pancakes,'' Jeff Munroe, who helped organize this tasting of maple syrup in Middlebury, Vt., said with a laugh. ''That's how everyone else does it.''

A maple syrup tasting might seem pointless. Maple syrup's most prominent flavor is sweet, isn't it?

But a merry band of professors from Vermont colleges -- a geologist, a sensory scientist, a cultural anthropologist and a conservationist -- think there's much more to it. In an informal study, they hope to show that syrups vary by region, with nuances that could help small-scale producers use their locations like a brand.

''Small syrup makers are still competing with Aunt Jemima,'' said Amy Trubek, an anthropologist and assistant professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont who is coordinating the project. ''Like Burgundy wines or Savoie cheeses, the terroir of maple syrups matters.''

Does that French concept of goût de terroir -- the taste of place -- apply to maple syrup? That's the point of the tastings. The researchers hope to determine whether a syrup made from trees sitting on limestone bedrock has, say, more spice and fruit notes than one made from trees growing on a foundation of schist. And do the size of the farm, the soil, the production methods and other factors also affect flavor, and if so, how?

''What we want to do,'' Ms. Trubek said, ''is apply the techniques used by the wine world to argue that not all Vermont maple syrups are the same.''

That concept is foreign, even anathema, to most sugar makers, as syrup producers are called in Vermont. There, the Vermont brand is king. The only official distinctions between syrups are color and viscosity. So-called fancy syrups are the clearest and thinnest, followed by Grade A medium amber, Grade A dark amber and Grade B, which has the strongest flavor. But within each grade there is a wide range of flavors, from milky caramel to toasted hazelnut and molasses.

In October, the group held a public tasting in Shelburne.

''I was astonished at the differences,'' said one person who attended, Kim Borsavage, who owns a bed-and-breakfast near Shelburne. Ms. Borsavage said she preferred the syrup from limestone bedrock; a good thing, she said, because she gets her syrup nearby and the area is mainly underlined with limestone.

She said she was put off, though, by the ''moldy'' and ''dirty'' taste of a syrup that came from trees grown on schist bedrock.

Such distinctions had intrigued Ms. Trubek, whose book ''The Taste of Place'' is to be published next fall by the University of California Press. In a state like Vermont that prizes its rural heritage and individualism, she said, why is every syrup supposedly the same?

John Elder, a professor of English and environmental studies at Middlebury, had similar thoughts, but for different reasons.

Mr. Elder, who in early September made local headlines when he dressed up as a maple tree, complete with a three-foot leafy headdress, for a five-day walk to call attention to global warming, said he imagined a time when Vermont might offer syrup tours the same way Napa offers wine tours. ''People begin to value the place through the product,'' he said.

And Mr. Munroe, a geology professor at Middlebury College, was keen to find out whether words like ''mineral'' and ''flinty,'' which so often appear on wine and other food labels, had a scientific underpinning. ''These are 100-year-old trees that are deeply rooted,'' he said. ''There was a good possibility there was a connection.''

The professors have shared not only their interest, but also their resources. (The project has no financing yet.)

Mr. Munroe had Lee Corbett, an undergraduate geology major, collect samples from 18 family-owned sugar makers last spring and test them with an inductively coupled plasma argon emission spectrometer at Middlebury. The machine, which usually analyzes rocks, vaporized the syrup, then pushed it through a 15,000-degree plasma flame -- hotter than the surface of the sun. The vapor then disintegrates into its individual elements, which the machine reads and records.

''It was a funny convergence,'' Mr. Munroe said. ''All these people in white lab coats watching this giant machine worth hundreds of thousands of dollars go to work on a jug of maple syrup. But then, there have been worse things in there. Last year, someone analyzed snail's blood.''

The tests concluded that syrup produced from trees on limestone bedrock had the highest quantities of copper, magnesium, calcium and silica, which scientists hypothesized had a role in the taste. Shale syrups came in second in all of these substances, followed by schist.

A maple terroir was emerging.

They proceeded with the tastings, which were done with the seriousness of scientific pursuit, if not the absolute rigor of controlled scientific experiments.

There were, after all, some difficulties. Unlike wine tasters, the professors didn't spit.

''That means we can only taste so much,'' Ms. Trubek said, ''before we start bouncing off the walls.''

Anonymous said...

Yet another good post, Cuz. Scary indeed. Also a good wake up call for us on syrup. Thank you for probably extending my life span by at least a year or two :-)

Anonymous said...

Who cares what's in the fake stuff - bottom line is, it tastes like crap.

Jim Hohl said...

I agree. Someone (wink,wink) convinced me many years ago to use real maple syrup and honestly even though the real stuff costs more, I would never go back to Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin. Yuck. I hate that restaurants serve that as syrup too. It's horrible.

Anonymous said...

I swayed a boyfriend to switch to the real thing once by showing him that, even if left overnight, the REAL syrup-covered dishes don't stick to each other like concrete. He was convinced.

Anonymous said...

I know wikipedia isn't the best ersource, but in case anyone is wondering what else sodium hexametaphosphate is used for....


Daniel said...

Let me share some text from the Wikipedia entry:

"Sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP) hydrolyzes in aqueous solution, particularly under acidic conditions, to sodium trimetaphosphate and sodium orthophosphate. SHMP is used as a sequestrant and has applications in a wide variety of industries, including as a food additive in which it is used under the E number E452i. Sodium carbonate is sometimes added to SHMP to raise the pH to 8.0-8.6, which produces a number of SHMP products used for water softening and detergents. Also used as a dispersing agent to break down clay and other soil types."

Mmmmmmm.... sequestrants.

If I had any self-doubt about not eating fake maple syrup before, it's gone now.

Thanks for reading!

MCM Voices said...

Mmmmmm, sequestering agents....

I know I am now going to be seeing the term "sodium hexametaphosphate" everywhere....

Give me honey and butter on pancakes any day. So. Good.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but my 9 yo won't use the real maple syrup...it's "too thin". Wah! They should put these things in the baby manual we all get when we leave the hospital, then I never would've started the kids on that crap! ~g~

Amanda said...

Before I was diagnosed with diabetes I never, EVER used fake maple syrup. No way! The real stuff isn't that much more expensive, and the fact it's all NATURAL makes it worth it.

Now, however, I have to go to fake sugar-free stuff. Bummer--but still no corn syrup. There are other yummy, yummy toxins in my syrup, I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

I can pronounce hexametaphosphate, its quite easy, in fact. I also do not eat real syrup, because it doesn't stick to my pancakes and tastes vaguely of bark, which does not appeal to my tastes very much. If you ask me, syrup such as Log cabin and Jemima is what people eat, and maple syrup is for north easterners to brag about while tourists watch the leaves change.

Daniel said...

Ouch. But I suppose you have a point.

I gather you're not from the Northeast? :)


Anonymous said...

Although I live in the place that produces most of the world's maple syrup, I find $9.99 for a 500 mL can is too steep for me. But I also don't want to use that Aunt Jemima junk.

Instead, I make my own fake maple syrup. Bring 1 cup water and 2 cups brown sugar to a boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp maple extract.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the interesting substitute idea! Agreed, real maple syrup can be quite expensive.


Anonymous said...

OMG did you know "chemicals" are all around us?

Everything is a chemical.

Julie said...

But the Wiki definition still doesn't tell me what SHMP does or why it's bad (since I'm not a chemist and all that.)

I used to eat Aunty J, but the last bottle I used had a really strange aftertaste. So I switched to Hungry Jack. I tried the "fake" homemade maple syrup, but it also has an awful aftertaste.

The only thing that doesn't offend my sense of taste and intelligence is pure maple.

Anonymous said...

I came for a granola recipe and saw your mention of this post - I loved this! It's sad, it's disgusting, it's so annoying that "we" sell "food" that isn't even real food!

Great post!