Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Maple Syrup: Grade B Becomes Grade A

Today, "Grade A" maple syrup is light in color and slight of flavor; "Grade B" is darker and more robust. That will change officially by 2013 when all pure maple syrup sold in stores will be labeled "Grade A" and come in 4 color classes: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark.

Some history of maple syrup, From:
Making the Grade: Why the Cheapest Maple Syrup Tastes Best, The Atlantic, November 1, 2011

Colonial America was hooked on white granulated sugar, and wanted its maple trees to produce it:
"They took the concentrated maple sap and poured it into conical molds, refining it into white sugar-loaves like those produced in Britain from cane syrup.

Maple sugar, a distinctively American product, was touted as the equal of the sugar served in the most elegant Old World salons. The clearest syrups and whitest sugars, which betrayed the least hint of their rustic origins, commanded premium prices."
Post Revolution, Benjamin Rush envisioned an "ignoble purpose" for the sap, but it never took off:
"It affords a most agreeable molasses," he wrote, suggesting that it "might compose the basis of a pleasant summer beer." It was at least as well suited for rum, but Rush piously expressed his hope that "this precious juice will never be prostituted by our citizens to this ignoble purpose."
By the end of the nineteenth century, some were glimpsing the value of the real, raw deal:
The USDA "scorned the idea of refining maple sap into white sugar, noting that maple sugar and syrup were "prized for their peculiar flavor, and are luxuries rather than staple articles of the daily diet."
But Americans still preferred lighter varieties, opening the door to adulteration with corn and glucose syrups. By the early 1900s, one scientist estimated:
"The amount of Vermont Maple Syrup sold every year [was] ten times the actual production."
No matter, by the end of WWII, "pancake syrup" was entrenched:
"Brands backed with corporate heft, like Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima and Unilever's Mrs. Butterworth, and which included only trace amounts of actual maple syrup [were introduced]."
The turnaround came in the 1980s, when technology and romance married, spawning a lucrative market for the most maple-y of maple syrups. But they were suffering under the weight of a "Grade B" label. The answer? Call them all Grade A:

Photo of maple syrup taps from Schmidling Productions:
"The sap starts to run as soon as above freezing days occur and stops if it stays above freezing for more than a day. It also stops at night when it freezes but then resumes in the morning if it warms up again.

The sap is simply water containing about 3% sugar that was produced by the leaves in Fall and stored in the roots. In Spring this sugar is required by the new buds for development. When the new leaves start photosynthesizing and producing sugar, the flow stops completely."
There are a lot of gems in this Atlantic article, such as the ethical promotion of a product: "Best of all, it would destroy the market for Caribbean sugar cane, produced by slaves laboring in horrifying conditions," and tie-in to the 1906 birth of the FDA. Thanks, shaun!


Bix said...

I have to admit ... I didn't know that maple syrup came out of the tree clear.

caulfieldkid said...

Funny how the mind works. It makes sense for it to be clear, but you do kind of envision maple syrup dripping out. Or at least something brownish.