Sticky Gold #3 – Organic Maple Syrup

by Jeanne


Maple syrup at first glance seems to be a pretty “natural” product as many of us see it as an unprocessed food.  Contributing to this perception is that many labels often carry the word ‘pure’ inferrng no preservatives, additives or colorings. So in researching this series I began to wonder about organic maple syrup. 

We all have many reasons for seeking out organic food whether it’s for health, environmental, nutritional or to support small family farms. Understanding the value and the how behind organic maple syrup requires you to think about inputs, the steps taken in the preproduction stage of harvesting and producing this liquid sugar. Organic maple syrup falls under the "wild-crop harvesting" section of the National Organic Standards, which partly states that "a wild crop must be harvested in a manner that ensures that such harvesting or gathering will not be destructive to the environment. In an organic sugar bush, as in any organic system, additives are strictly regulated and synthetic chemicals are generally not allowed.

Organic certifiers ask producers how they control rodents, whether they spray pesticides on trees, and whether chemicals are used to keep tap holes open. The most concerning one is the use of formaldehyde.  Large producers use this chemical to keep bacteria at bay while allowing the tap hole to say open and the sap running leading to a higher grade and lighter quality syrup. Yes, it’s illegal but recent reports have found an alarming presence of it.  This may be the only reason you need to seek out the organic version.

Maple syrup is gathered by ‘tapping” or drilling small holes into maple trees adhering to best practices call for organic producers to refrain from over-tapping or overburdening trees. The hole is usually as big as a man’s thumb. One effort made by producers is to tap trees 50 years or older and only of a specific diameter or greater.  Before I get a flood of emails, as I was concerned too, these holes only last about a month and should only be tap once per season otherwise it harms the trees. According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, “Proper tapping does not harm the tree, and the amount of sap taken from the tree is a mere fraction of the volume of sap in the tree on any given day. Trees must be about a foot in diameter before they can be tapped, and most trees can have one or two taps {holes} per season. Larger trees may have more. Many of the big maple trees in New England have been tapped yearly for well over 100 years.”

Another input as sap transforms into syrup over many, many hours in a boiling, foaming evaporator, organic producers, are prohibited from using certain chemicals to reduce the foaming that occurs during this stage. Vegans, take note here, many use allowable, traditional de-foaming agents instead such as butter or oil.

We all need to make our choices.  What we can’t see in the way of production and inputs is an important consideration.  Buying from a producer who is taking the time to produce a quality product while serving as a steward of the land and the environment is another evaluation point; if it says organic that’s the pure gold for me. (Vermont Organic)

Canadian Organic Maple Co.

Read previous posts in this serious:

The Culture Around  Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Production Process