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Reclaiming Maple

25 January 2011 4,661 views 56 Comments
How passionate am I about maple syrup? I would describe it as similar to how the French feel about wine, to how Middle Easterners feel about hummus, or how locavores feel about eating locally. Born in Canada, I’m proud and fiercely passionate about maple syrup.
Do I care if you like maple syrup? No. However, I DO care about you knowing what maple syrup is, and what it is not. I care about maple syrup’s “brand” as a natural product, and I don’t like the way so many restaurants are sullying its good name.
How are they doing that? Well, by serving “maple-flavored syrup,” “pancake syrup,” – basically corn syrup with a bunch of additives and little to no maple syrup, and passing it off as “real maple syrup,” “old fashioned maple syrup,” and “standard, regular old maple.” These are actual quotes from Austin restaurant employees.
What most restaurants actually serve is some variation of America’s favorite syrup — Aunt Jemima. If you go to many restaurants these days, they’ll serve you an Aunt Jemima-like product they order from a huge distributor like Cisco.
What’s in it? Here’s a sample label: Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Cellulose Gum, Caramel Color, Salt, sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Sodium Hexametaphosphate.
Yum….right?!
But here’s the deal – many of you grew up on the corn syrup stuff, and it brings back those fond memories of Sunday morning pancakes as a special treat. So you really like it. In fact, many people raised on corn syrup don’t like the taste of maple syrup. And while that makes me kind of sad, I understand. In fact, my brother has always liked Aunt Jemima and the like better than maple. My mom used to have to stock both.
I’ve always been hyper sensitive about maple syrup. If a restaurant offers it, even if it costs extra, it’s all I’ll drizzle on my pancakes or waffle. One of my pet peeves is when my server tells me its maple, and when it’s delivered to the table, I taste it and realize it’s not. Especially if I’ve already drowned my pancakes in the fraudulent version. I’m not above bringing my own maple syrup to a restaurant if I have a hankering for pancakes, just so I’m not disappointed.
I’ve gone on like this for years, grumbling curmudgeonly about the sad fate of maple syrup in our society, when I came to the final straw.
Last fall, I was visiting a local restaurant that had invited me and Adam to taste some new menu items. The owner was kind enough to meet us and answer some of our questions while we ate. Early in the meal, I took notice that according to their menu where it is noted on a handful of items, they serve “Hudson Valley Maple Syrup.” I was surprised that this particular establishment served maple syrup – since I know it is expensive – and immediately lauded the owner for their commitment to quality. He thanked me.
Later, when my dish came with a side of this “Hudson Valley Maple Syrup,” the first bite sent my taste buds into confusion.  I knew immediately that this was NOT maple syrup. All I could muster was one word: “no.” Just “no.”
When I regained my composure, I looked him in the eye and said, “This is not maple syrup.” He admitted that it was a 60/40 blend of maple syrup. A blend? I had never heard of such a thing and was even more chagrined to think that anyone would mix pure maple syrup with something else. That’s even more of an insult!
A full two months after directly sharing my concerns with the owner and their PR person about this via e-mail, the menu remains the same. When I called as part of my Austin Maple Syrup Restaurant survey, the hostess told me they serve pure maple syrup. After questioning her to make sure it is real maple, she assured me that it is. I have to wonder: did they decide to invest in maple syrup and keep their menus the same? Or, are they still serving the “blend” and just haven’t educated their staff or customers about this deliberately untrue claim?
How one restaurant chooses to do business isn’t what this blog post is about. However, it does illustrate that pure maple syrup means something in our society. Why does this restaurant portray themselves as offering the real deal? Because they want their customers to think they care about quality. Maple syrup is expensive, maple-flavored corn syrup is cheap. They are two very different products and I hope that no matter which syrup you prefer, you will join me in demanding to know what exactly you are being served.
In a future post, I will share with you the results of a telephone survey of restaurants throughout Austin that serve breakfast and brunch where I ask if they offer maple syrup. I was amazed at the confusion among those I spoke to about what maple syrup is and how many people called corn syrup maple syrup until I asked them directly which they actually had. For many, it was only corn. Others offered maple for an extra charge (totally ok by me as it is much more expensive). And some only serve pure maple. However, I had to ask the question in a few different ways to get them to ask the chef/manager/owner what they actually offer.
Leading up to this post on local restaurants’ syrup offerings, I’ll be sharing more about the history, production, and labeling of maple syrup to help you make informed syrup decisions in your own life and to ask the right questions of yourself and those you spend money with to choose the best syrup options for you and your family.. Thank you for joining me on this syrupy journey.

How passionate am I about maple syrup? I would describe it as similar to how the French feel about wine, to how Middle Easterners feel about hummus, or how locavores feel about eating locally. Born in Canada, I’m proud and fiercely passionate about maple syrup.

maple syrup

Photo Credit: http://www.todayifoundout.com

Do I care if you like maple syrup? No. However, I DO care about you knowing what maple syrup is, and what it is not. I care about maple syrup’s “brand” as a natural product, and I don’t like the way so many restaurants are sullying its good name.

How are they doing that? Well, by serving “maple-flavored syrup,” “pancake syrup,” – basically corn syrup with a bunch of additives and little to no maple syrup, and passing it off as “real maple syrup,” “old fashioned maple syrup,” and “standard, regular old maple.” These are actual quotes from Austin restaurant employees.

What most restaurants actually serve is some variation of America’s favorite syrup — Aunt Jemima. If you go to many restaurants these days, they’ll serve you an Aunt Jemima-like product they order from a huge distributor like Sysco.

What’s in it? Here’s a sample label: Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Cellulose Gum, Caramel Color, Salt, sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Sodium Hexametaphosphate.

Yum….right?!

But here’s the deal – many of you grew up on the corn syrup stuff, and it brings back those fond memories of Sunday morning pancakes as a special treat. So you really like it. In fact, many people raised on corn syrup don’t like the taste of maple syrup. And while that makes me kind of sad, I understand. In fact, my brother has always liked Aunt Jemima and the like better than maple. My mom used to have to stock both.

I’m not above bringing my own maple syrup to a restaurant if I have a hankering for pancakes, just so I’m not disappointed. I’ve gone on like this for years, grumbling curmudgeonly about the sad fate of maple syrup in our society, when I came to the final straw.

Last fall, I was visiting a local restaurant that had invited me and Adam to taste some new menu items. The owner was kind enough to meet us and answer some of our questions while we ate. Early in the meal, I took notice that according to their menu where it is noted on a handful of items, they serve “Hudson Valley Maple Syrup.” I was surprised that this particular establishment served maple syrup – since I know it is expensive – and immediately lauded the owner for their commitment to quality. He thanked me.

Later, when my dish came with a side of this “Hudson Valley Maple Syrup,” the first bite sent my taste buds into confusion.  I knew immediately that this was NOT maple syrup. All I could muster was one word: “no.” Just “no.”

When I regained my composure, I looked him in the eye and said, “This is not maple syrup.” He admitted that it was a 60/40 blend of maple syrup. A blend? I had never heard of such a thing and was even more chagrined to think that anyone would mix pure maple syrup with something else.

A full two months after directly sharing my concerns with the owner and their PR person about this via e-mail, the menu remains the same. When I called as part of my Austin Maple Syrup Restaurant Survey, the hostess told me they serve pure maple syrup. After questioning her to make sure it is real maple, she assured me that it is. I have to wonder: did they decide to invest in maple syrup and keep their menus the same? Or, are they still serving the “blend” and just haven’t educated their staff or customers about this deliberately untrue claim?

How one restaurant chooses to do business isn’t what this blog post is about.

However, I think it illustrates that pure maple syrup means something in our society. Whoever wrote that menu included “Hudson Valley Maple Syrup” instead of “Pancake Syrup” or leaving the syrup out of the description entirely because maple syrup is a high quality, expensive product and they want their customers to read the menu and feel that what they are eating is special.

The stuff they — and many other restaurants serve — is maple-flavored corn syrup. The cheap, fake, stuff. You can taste the difference no matter which type of syrup you prefer.

In a future post, I will share with you the results of my telephone survey of about 50 restaurants throughout Austin that serve breakfast and brunch. I was amazed at the level of confusion among those I spoke to about what kind of syrup they serve because most people don’t ask. Many assumed they served maple until I asked more questions and they realized that what they serve is not the real stuff.

In the end, the majority of restaurants I called — 22 in total — serve only corn syrup. Sixteen local restaurants serve only pure maple. And seven restaurants serve both — with four out of the seven charging extra for the maple option (something I’m totally ok with — the real stuff is more expensive).

Leading up to this post on local Austin restaurants’ syrup offerings, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about the history, production, and labeling of maple syrup.

In the end, I’d love to make a small difference in how readers think  about the syrup they are being served and become savvy syrup consumers. I plan to keep my list of restaurants and their maple syrup options updated, and hope that more of the corn-syrup only establishments will offer diners the option of real maple syrup.

Thank you for joining me on this syrupy journey.

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  • http://www.dininginaustinblog.com/ Laura

    I think it's totally cute that you bring your own maple syrup. Sounds like you have to!

    As for me, I don't have a sweet tooth so I generally skip the syrup all together- corn or maple.

  • http://www.dininginaustinblog.com/ Laura

    I think it's totally cute that you bring your own maple syrup. Sounds like you have to!

    As for me, I don't have a sweet tooth so I generally skip the syrup all together- corn or maple.

  • Kristi

    I'm with Laura, I love that you are obsessed with maple syrup. I'm looking forward to learning more. Edify me in the ways of the maple. :>

  • Fulmer

    Grade A Maple syrup seems to be more prevalent in restaurants. I prefer Grade B for the more pronounced flavor and viscosity. Hard to find in TX, but I suggest you try Birch syrup too if you have not already.

  • marcoskirsch

    I recently wrote about maple syrup on my blog, so if this turns into a local internet thing, I demand full credit.
    http://marcos.kirsch.com.mx/20…/

    Personally, I'd be ok if restaurants charged me an extra $1 or so in order to get real maple syrup. I understand the stuff is expensive for them. But at least offer it and be honest about what you serve.

  • http://www.anotheraustinfoodblog.blogspot.com/ laura

    Sadly, I grew up on the crap corn syrup, too. But I'd like to believe I can taste the difference. And the other day when I tried that maple from Canada, I was sure that if I'd been given a taste-test, I'd have won. I am starting to think that you really shouldn't waste the good maple on crappy pancakes or waffles or what have you …. and you really don't want to have the corn syrup on amazing pancakes. Fortunately, those pancakes AND the maple syrup were to die for. Thank you for sharing!

  • Fulmer

    Grade A Maple syrup seems to be more prevalent in restaurants. I prefer Grade B for the more pronounced flavor and viscosity. Hard to find in TX, but I suggest you try Birch syrup too if you have not already.

  • marcoskirsch

    I recently wrote about maple syrup on my blog, so if this turns into a local internet thing, I demand full credit.
    http://marcos.kirsch.com.mx/20…/

    Personally, I'd be ok if restaurants charged me an extra $1 or so in order to get real maple syrup. I understand the stuff is expensive for them. But at least offer it and be honest about what you serve.

  • http://www.anotheraustinfoodblog.blogspot.com/ laura

    Sadly, I grew up on the crap corn syrup, too. But I'd like to believe I can taste the difference. And the other day when I tried that maple from Canada, I was sure that if I'd been given a taste-test, I'd have won. I am starting to think that you really shouldn't waste the good maple on crappy pancakes or waffles or what have you …. and you really don't want to have the corn syrup on amazing pancakes. Fortunately, those pancakes AND the maple syrup were to die for. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.anotheraustinfoodblog.blogspot.com/ laura

    P.S. That picture is fantastic! Who took it and where? Iwanttogotothere.

  • Jason

    “I have to wonder: did they decide to invest in maple syrup and keep their menus the same? Or, are they still serving the “blend” and just haven’t educated their staff or customers about this deliberately untrue claim?”

    I'm guessing the latter.

  • Sarahlynton

    I'm looking forward to reading about which restaurants serve maple syrup! I looove maple syrup and have the same pet peeve about maple-flavored syrup.

  • jodibart

    I respect that, Laura. Syrup is really sweet!

  • jodibart

    You know I will, girl! Thank you for the support. Also, please send me any information you have on Richardson Farm's sorghum syrup!

  • jodibart

    Thank you for the tip, Fulmer. It's interesting because Grade A Maple Syrup also tends to be more expensive since it's part of the first pressing. Grade B is great for the true maple syrup lover — and also for baking. I'll add Birch syrup to my list of syrups to research. I hadn't heard of it before. I loved Birch beer growing up though.

  • jodibart

    I knew I liked you, Kirsch. How funny that we are both blogging about this same topic within a week of each other! Yes, and I agree that honesty is the best policy.

  • jodibart

    You are most welcome, my dear! It was a pleasure to have you over. XO

  • jodibart

    I feel badly b/c I swiped it from a search on Google images. I've added the photo credit info now. Bad, bad, food blogger.

  • jodibart

    Hell yeah, sistah! I'm looking forward to posting it. Have a few more posts before I get to it but in a perfect world, it would be up before this Sunday's brunch decisions need to be made.

  • David B.

    My entire life, I was unaware I was eating fake syrup, and now that I know this, I'm pissed off. I think restaurants should have more respect for themselves.

  • jodibart

    Viva la Revolucion!

  • David B.

    My entire life, I was unaware I was eating fake syrup, and now that I know this, I'm pissed off. I think restaurants should have more respect for themselves.

  • jodibart

    Viva la Revolucion!

  • Mom

    When you were a little girl, living in Canada, we used to take you to “Sugaring Off” time. Sugaring Off is usually in February or March and we would take the sap from the Maple tree and eat it off snow. What fun we had. I am with you about Maple Syrup, especially when it comes from Canada, eh? Hugs and love!

  • Mom

    When you were a little girl, living in Canada, we used to take you to “Sugaring Off” time. Sugaring Off is usually in February or March and we would take the sap from the Maple tree and eat it off snow. What fun we had. I am with you about Maple Syrup, especially when it comes from Canada, eh? Hugs and love!

  • jodibart

    I actually remember eating the snow with fresh maple syrup poured on it. It had the consistency of taffy and was delicious! Do you know if we have any photos of me as a kid with maple syrup or at a sugaring festival?

    xo

  • jodibart

    Katie: That sounds like the most amazing wedding gift I can imagine! I believe we work down the street from each other. I think we need to meet up for a pancake lunch one day soon. What do you think of that idea? Do you know if any restaurant in town serves grade B maple?

  • jodibart

    I agree! I have read that maple syrup, like wine and cheese, definitely changes in flavor depending on where its from and when its harvested. Check out this article from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/20/dining/20mapl.html

    Also, my friend Brandy brought me back a gorgeous bottle of maple syrup from Canada. It's from a company called L.B. Maple Treat and had the following information on the bottle: “Single Press Maple Syrup 2010, Certified Organic, Canada No. 1 Medium.” This means that it was filtered only once. Canada No. 1 Medium is similar to Grade A Dark Amber in the U.S. More on the differences in the grading system here: http://www.maplesource.com/Syrup/Maple_Grades.php.

    Also, my friend Brandy brought me back a gorgeous bottle of maple syrup from Canada. It's from a company called

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  • http://twitter.com/katiecook katie cook

    Jodi, I too was born in Canada and am obsessed with maple syrup. My father used to make it when we lived in Ontario. My favorite wedding gift was two large cans of medium and dark syrup from our old neighbors who we stayed in touch with.
    I refuse to use maple syrup that has corn syrup in it. Pure all the way.
    Great post!

  • Andy Bart

    I would suggest that an AOC equivalent as the french have for wine regions should be established for maple syrup. Then, like for a fine Margeaux a premium price can be paid with the consumer being totally clear that they are using a syrup of higher quality. I assume something control such as this is already being initiated but not clear. Cheeses have it as well to some degree.

    Love

    Dad

  • http://twitter.com/katiecook katie cook

    Yes! A pancake lunch sounds awesome. Let's both research downtown/Central restaurants that serve grade B syrup. Magnolia or Kerbey? It looks like 24 Diner has grade A Vermont syrup…

  • aunt sharon

    How fortunate I am.
    This past fall … my team ( in golf ) won the “Canadian Open ” at our club in Hilton Head. First place received a large bottle of PURE MAPLE SYRUP purchased while the chairperson was home for the summer in Canada.
    At the time I did not realize how special it was until everyone wanted it.
    Yes it is the best.
    aunt sharon

  • jodibart

    Auntie Sharon – Thank you so much for commenting! Yep, maple syrup (and Canadians) are pretty special.

  • Andy Bart

    Is Grade B a lighter amber. I think I like a lighter amber better although it is often difficult to taste a darker color. It's like seeing louder music….

  • jodibart

    Auntie Sharon – Thank you so much for commenting! Yep, maple syrup (and Canadians) are pretty special.

  • Andy Bart

    Is Grade B a lighter amber. I think I like a lighter amber better although it is often difficult to taste a darker color. It's like seeing louder music….

  • jodibart

    Thank you so much, Fredda! I know, I can't believe that IHOP has about every flavor of syrup you can imagine OTHER than maple. Also, congratulations on your good news. I wish the happy couple only maple syrup with their pancakes.

  • jodibart

    Thank you for being such a supportive friend, Bets! Can't wait to share more delicious syrup with you!

  • Fsatinsky

    Jodala,
    I’m glad you’re focusing on MAPLE syrup…frankly, I think all of the other flavors are not needed. I mean…the International Pancake House with about 15 flavors…really!!! Great writer, great photo and great topic.
    Kisses,Fredda

  • Bgoldinbecker

    Jodi, thanks for shedding light on the great maple syrup conspiracy. Thanks to you, I have completely eliminated corn-based, “maple-flavored” syrup from my refrigerator and from my life. Keep on spreading the good word – to your readers, your friends, our local restauranteurs and anyone else who belives in the pure goodness of 100% maple.

  • jodibart

    Thank you so much, Fredda! I know, I can't believe that IHOP has about every flavor of syrup you can imagine OTHER than maple. Also, congratulations on your good news. I wish the happy couple only maple syrup with their pancakes.

  • jodibart

    Thank you for being such a supportive friend, Bets! Can't wait to share more delicious syrup with you!

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  • http://www.riemerville.com Shannan Riemer

    Only 100% maple syrup in our house this wisconsin born girl wont have it any other way.

  • http://www.riemerville.com Shannan Riemer

    Only 100% maple syrup in our house this wisconsin born girl wont have it any other way.

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  • Bigbadsmith

    I recently went to Manny's Uptown Kitchen and tried their maple syrup, it did not taste like true Maple syrup. I should have questioned them, but since I'm Texan and not a true Canadian, I thought I was mistaken. So I didn't call them on it. Next time I'll ask to see the bottle, or the Maple tree if they have one growing in their kitchen. Lol!

  • jodibart

    Preach it, woman!

  • jodibart

    Funny! Yes, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that the only thing you can trust when it comes from discerning whether its real maple or not, is your taste buds!

  • Rachaelsperling

    Hi Jodi-

    I think it's great that you straight up told the owner “This isn't maple syrup.”

    What gets me about all this, is that it seems like false advertising or misleading the customer. So technically when they write “maple syrup” on their menus it's some form of illegal, right?
    Do you know the USDA regulations on menu item description regulations for restaurants?

    I may be way off base, but it's something to think about. Keep up the good investigative work!

    Rachael

  • Rachaelsperling

    Hi Jodi-

    I think it's great that you straight up told the owner “This isn't maple syrup.”

    What gets me about all this, is that it seems like false advertising or misleading the customer. So technically when they write “maple syrup” on their menus it's some form of illegal, right?
    Do you know the USDA regulations on menu item description regulations for restaurants?

    I may be way off base, but it's something to think about. Keep up the good investigative work!

    Rachael

  • Pingback: Tasty Touring » Blog Archive » Proposed MAPLE Act to Send Fakes Down the Drain

  • Dixon

    hello

    i am from Wales, (in the U.K) and i have maple sirup in nearly every cupboard in my kitchen. the real stuff. When i went to a supermarket recently they had changed their stock to this new cheap own brand and now i drive 25 miles to grab my maple sirup from a family run business they are great and i am now great friends with them. But i still think that super markets should have deer maple sirup brands and their own cheap one :)
    -I. Dixon

  • Dixon

    hello

    i am from Wales, (in the U.K) and i have maple sirup in nearly every cupboard in my kitchen. the real stuff. When i went to a supermarket recently they had changed their stock to this new cheap own brand and now i drive 25 miles to grab my maple sirup from a family run business they are great and i am now great friends with them. But i still think that super markets should have deer maple sirup brands and their own cheap one :)
    -I. Dixon

  • Dixon

    hello

    i am from Wales, (in the U.K) and i have maple sirup in nearly every cupboard in my kitchen. the real stuff. When i went to a supermarket recently they had changed their stock to this new cheap own brand and now i drive 25 miles to grab my maple sirup from a family run business they are great and i am now great friends with them. But i still think that super markets should have deer maple sirup brands and their own cheap one :)
    -I. Dixon