This iconic Canadian sweetener may be one of the latest "superfoods," but there's more to processing the goo than you know
This imposter may be what greasy spoons call maple syrup when they dish out flapjacks, but it’s really just flavoured corn syrup. That means it’s made with dent corn, aka field corn, the stuff used to make corn starch, cornmeal and corn chips that happens to be 90 per cent genetically modified in North America (unlike much of the sweet corn you get in grocery stores). It’s commonly sprayed with controversial glysophate, which was recently labelled a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. And Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture says over 99 per cent of our corn comes from seeds treated with bee-toxic neonicotinoids. Stir in some artificial flavour, colour, sodium benzoate and sodium hexametaphosphate and – voilà! – breakfast.
This classic-looking maple syrup with a retro winter scene on the tin is labelled “100 per cent pure from Quebec,” but beyond that it’s often fuzzy on details. That’s because lots of different maple syrup farmers buy these trademarked cans from Montreal’s Dominion & Grimm. Some throw a sticker on telling you who they are some leave the cans blank, making it nearly impossible to inquire, for example, about what kind of de-foaming chemicals may be used in syrup production. For many consumers the bigger concern may be the cans themselves, since unless otherwise indicated, they’re usually lined with epoxy resin containing hormone-disrupting bisphenol A. I called Dominion & Grimm to find out whether the cans are BPA-free, but they didn’t know.
The world’s largest supplier of maple syrup, this Quebec-based producers’ cooperative collects sap from more than 7 million maple trees across Canada. And like conventional Quebec syrup, it’s gathered and blended in bulk so there’s no way to know which farm the syrup sold under any of Citadelle’s dozen brands, including Maple Gold, PurNature, Smoky Kettle and Oh Canada, comes from. The good news: most of the syrup comes in glass, though some come in tins or plastic. Quebec’s Maple Syrup Federation actually spot-checks for illegal use of carcinogenic sap-booster paraformaldehyde, although fewer farms seem to be getting charged each year. Three were busted in 2013.
Unlike Quebec’s conventional maple syrups, these organic Quebecois brands don’t have to pool their sweet stuff through the central federation. Chemical herbicides and pesticides aren’t often used on conventional farms, but the organic seal firmly outlaws them. The seal also forbids the use of chemical de-foaming agents like propylene glycol. (Canadian Heritage uses organic safflower oil instead). It also outlaws the use of lead or lead solder in equipment, microwaves, UV radiation treatment and chemical line cleaners. (Only natural, biodegradable cleaners are allowed.) All in glass, except Shady Maple, which sells big plastic jugs, too.
Most of us can’t get maple syrup by tapping trees in our backyards. (You’d need 40 litres of sap to get 1 litre of syrup.) But Forbes offers some of the most locally sourced syrup in town. It isn’t wild-foraged, the way most Forbes foods are, but it does all come from a single organic farm near Goderich (just over 200 kilometres away). Score some at Rowe Farms stores, farmers’ markets and the Brick Works Garden Market. All in glass.