Should We Buy Organic Maple Syrup?

maple sugar buckets
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Last week we discussed where to find maple syrup at a good price. In the comments, the question was brought up, “Is it important to buy organic maple syrup?”.

Recently a maple syrup farmer’s son named Travis left a comment on that post explaining why he thought buying directly from (organic) farmers is the way to go. I thought that his perspective uniquely helpful, so I wanted to bring your attention to it. Here’s his comment.

“Hi, my family’s farm makes certified organic maple syrup in Vermont. We sell it on the farm for $18 per quart (32 oz), and priority mail shipping anywhere in the US is $10 for 2 quarts.
I also sell our maple syrup in person at the Fremont Sunday Farmer’s Market in Seattle, WA where I now live ($20 per quart, or 50-75 cents per fluid ounce if you bring a refillable glass container). If any Seattleites are reading this post be sure to drop by!

For everyone else, all I can say is, if you care about the taste and quality of your maple syrup, please buy from a real farmer! It’s totally worth the extra couple of dollars. The larger companies make their money by buying barrels and barrels of the lowest grade syrups available (the batches that farmers would be embarrassed – or forbidden by law – to sell to individuals) and mixing it with just enough good syrup to meet the Grade B or Grade A standard (note that grades are based on color, not taste, although darker color almost always means stronger flavor).
If you buy your syrup from a farmer, we know that if we sell you a mediocre product, you won’t be back. Plus many of us have websites now, so you can see what kind of a farm you are supporting (a quick Google search will show organic and non-organic farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan… and even Ebay has good deals sometimes from farmers who don’t have websites). If you’re dealing with a real farm and have any questions about the use of chemicals or why they aren’t certified organic, you can just send an email and get the farmer (or a spouse or kid) to tell you directly. Plus you’ll probably learn something about syrup – I’ve never met a sugarmaker who wouldn’t happily talk your ear off about making maple syrup on their farm.

And just to clarify on the meaning of organic in maple syrup production: Kimi is right that formaldehyde is now illegal in the US. But certified organic farms still have to adhere to stricter regulations concerning lead in equipment, types of filtering agents, and bans on chemical defoamers. And we also have to work with certified foresters to ensure the sustainable management of our forestland, promote tree health and biodiversity, and reduce erosion. Finally, organic certification is not a major hardship for small farms since the Federal government pays 75% of any certification fees, and the paperwork required is really just records farmers should be keeping anyway! We only produce 500 gallons of syrup per year on our farm, and we have been certified organic for years now.
So what’s the best deal on organic maple syrup? Know your farmer! We probably can’t beat Costco’s price most of the time, but we make a much better product, you’ll be proud to have the bottle on your shelf, and the conversation with your salesperson will almost definitely be more interesting.”

“Know your farmer…..”, always excellent advice. Thanks Travis! Your comment was very helpful.

*Photo Credit

KimiHarris

I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. David says

    Thanks for the post! I live in Seattle but never make it to the Fremont Market (usually work on Sunday and I love the University Market) but I’ll have to find a way to visit just to try the maple syrup.

  2. says

    Great post. I totally agree with buying straight from the source. Ironic, because I just wrote on this very issue today. We are moving back to Seattle next year so we’ll have to check out David’s stand. By the way, this is a great site. My friend connected me.

  3. says

    Kimi – thanks for posting this! I’m even in Seattle and the one who tried to find a farmer to buy from last year and gave up and bought from Costco. I can’t wait to contact Travis and forward the greater Seattle WAPF group! I could hug you but you are too far away. ;p

  4. Kate says

    Great post; I hope people’s eyes continue to be opened!!

    There is growing evidence of higher nutritional values in many organic items as well…

  5. Terri Lander says

    I usually make my own maple syrup, because while overseas we could not purchase it, and my family came to like the flavor of the syrup I make. I use Mapleline as the flavoring. Any comment on this? It is also possible to purchase a natural, pure maple extract (I suppose this would be considered “real”) at the nutritional section of Freddies–depending on your definition. I am wondering if the way I make it is super inferior to the real way of making syrup on Vermont. It is certainly hugely less expensive. To us it tastes better than your basic Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth’s, but I never exactly developed a taste for real Vermont maple syrup. My question is not so much on the taste, but on the nutritional ramifications of using maple flavoring or even pure maple extract.
    My recipe:
    1 cup evaporated cane juice
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1 cup water (Kangen is best–thank God we own a machine)
    boil for less than a minute
    Remove from heat and add:
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp maple extract
    Stir and serve hot!

  6. Tina~ says

    It helps if you know where your syrup gatherer is tapping trees as well.
    I remember talking to someone at an organic foods conference a while ago about lead in maple syrup- some of the trees and surrounding soil are so contaminated from car exhaust prior to lead reductions/bans in gas that it shows up in the syrup. Many of the maple stands run along some major roads.

  7. says

    Great post! Thanks so much for this. We usually pick up a jug from Trader’s Joe… but I would prefer to buy directly from a farmer when possible. When we were in Wisconsin last summer I bought a jug of maple syrup from the farmer’s market and LOVED it. We are planning to make a trip up there possibly in April… Anybody know a good local source there?? Thanks!

  8. says

    I live in the Netherlands and the only organic maple syrup I can get here is extremely expensive (24 €/litre) C-grade. What does this grade mean? Is it good enough? I never read about C-grade on the american/canadian websites, always A or B. It is Canadian syrup, brand Terra Sana.

  9. Rachelle says

    Terri Lander – what you’re making is maple flavored syrup; maple syrup is simply the boiled-down sap from maple trees, with nothing added. The nutritional benefits of maple syrup are that trace minerals from the ground are retained, and that the form of sugar is less refined (although I can’t tell you about fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc. content). I’m not sure if maple extract or flavoring would retain any trace minerals. However I’m sure your syrup is healthier than the store-bought, corn syrup based ones!

  10. Anne says

    Very nice post. I love in northern WI and we are just getting ready to tap our trees. This is my family’s 3rd year making our own maple syrup and we love it. It is so hard to find a good one. Everyone has their own method of cooking sap down and believe it or not, the location of the trees makes a big difference in taste. I agree you should go to the source. Every sugarbush I know of is more than willing to give you a free taste sample and explain how they do it. Enjoy!

  11. Lisa says

    I just found your post while looking to buy a good quality maple extract. Could you please tell me, is organic certification organic the same as you mention for small maple syrup farms as for other small farms with the Federal government paying 75% of any certification fees, and the paperwork required are records farmers should be keeping anyway?
    Thanks.

  12. bob anderson says

    I think selling the same volume of MS –”organic” vs “pure” for much more money is a sham and you should be ashamed to do so—unless you spell out specifically why your oranic product tastes better or is better for you than pure maple syrup. i.e., Wegmans.
    And, I will contiune to buy costco syrup and will challange anybody to a taste test. Caveat Emptor! bob

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