The Difference Between Conventional and Organic Maple Syrup

When you sit down with your pancakes in the morning, you may not think there is a difference between conventional maple syrup and the organic variety. Now, do not convince maple syrup with the cheap bottle at the supermarket because that bottle contains mostly high fructose corn syrup. Real maple syrup, on the other hand, comes straight from the maple tree and is a great natural sweetener. There are some similarities between conventional and organic maple syrup, but the organic product has to follow much more strict regulations. Today, we will help you to see those differences and understand why organic is the better choice. 

Similarities Between Conventional and Organic Maple Syrup

For the most part, when you look at the process of making maple syrup, most companies use the same steps. First, they have to gather the sap from maple trees by adding a tap to each individual tree. Once they collect the sap, they have to boil it until it reaches the thick consistency that we all know and love. Whether the company claims to be organic or not, each one has regular inspections from the USDA and the state. These inspections ensure that the company is using practices that are safe, sanitary, and legal.

You may be thinking that this is already a fairly complex process. Making maple syrup is not as easy and simple as many people think. In order to provide a good product, each company has to follow certain regulations, which then helps them to stay in business. However, following these regulations does not make them organic. The regulations companies have to follow to offer certified organic maple syrup make this complex process even more so.

Regulations for Organic Maple Syrup

As previously stated, they are more regulations that maple syrup companies have to follow in order to receive the organic certification. These regulations span across their whole business process, including the biodiversity of their land, the quality of their equipment and supplies, how they tap the trees, and how they boil the sap. The companies must follow these regulations through every step of the process and have yet another regular inspection from the USDA. Only after all of this can the company put the certified organic label on their product.

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Minimal Impact on Trees and Biodiversity

Before the company even starts, the quality of the land that houses their maple trees has to meet a high standard. As with most organic products, the company cannot use any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers on the trees or the plants around them. In order to provide the right amount of nutrients to the maple trees, companies must also ensure that there are other plants species around. Plants and trees each need different amounts of different nutrients, so larger biodiversity allows the plants to feed off of each other by providing the other with the needed nutrients. At the minimum, 15 to 20 percent of the maple forest should not contain maple trees. This also means that they cannot cut down the undergrowth because it contributes to the forest’s biodiversity.

On top of all of this, the maple syrup company must also have written plans available for inspection. These plans should lay out how they will maintain the forest in a sustainable manner and regenerate it over time.

Use of Proper Equipment and Supplies

Once the forest is capable of giving sap that is free of chemicals (which can take as long as three years after abstaining from those chemicals), the company must use proper equipment. When they tap the trees, there are regulations for the diameter of the tap, the quality of the buckets and storage containers, and more.

 In order to provide organic maple syrup, the tap must be no larger than 0.31 inches in diameter. Conventional maple syrup will allow taps over 40 percent larger, which can cause longer-lasting damage to the tree. Companies must insert the tap as shallow as possible in the tree because it makes it easier for the tree to heal over time. They cannot add more than three taps to a single tree, and they have to place the taps a specific distance away from the previous year’s taps. This can also damage the tree, which is why they only tap mature trees that are at least 20 centimeters in diameter at chest height.

When it comes to the buckets that collect the sap, they also must meet a high standard. They must be food-grade materials that are free of any damage, as well as free of lead. In fact, people have previously had concerns about lead from the storage containers seeping into their syrup. This brought up new regulations for companies to follow.  

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Organic Boiling Process

Once the company collects the sap for their organic maple syrup, they then must take special care in the boiling process. To boil the sap to create maple syrup, they can only use stainless steel pots and pans. Conventional maple syrup companies use a chemical to defoam the syrup as it bubbles, but organic maple syrup must 100 percent organic oils instead. For many companies, they use 100 percent vegetable oil as a defoamer so that their syrup is also vegan and allergen free. Non-vegan organic maple syrup will use organic butter instead.

Between boiling the sap, the companies cannot use standard chemical cleaners on the pots and pans. Instead, they must use the certified cleaners available to them. After the sap season ends, the companies can use vinegar and fermented sap to clean them.

Proper Documentation and Certification

Once the companies do all of this, they still cannot receive the organic certification if they do not have the right documentation. Like all businesses, nothing has meaning unless you have it on paper. The company must keep all of their production plans and records on file, as well as inventory records, sales records, and site maps.

Once all of this is in order, the company must have the USDA conduct another inspection. Each maple syrup company must have the state and USDA conduct inspections regularly, but organic maple syrup companies must have a separate inspection to make sure they follow all the additional organic regulations. If they pass that inspection, they can them put the certified organic label on their products.

Conclusion

When you take a step back, it is easy to see that making organic maple syrup is not an easy feat. Companies must take proper care of the maple forests and the rest of the plant life there so that the entire forest can be healthy and thrive. The must also take extra care when tapping the trees so that they do not cause extra damage that takes a long time to heal. After that, they must ensure all of their storage containers and other supplies are free of harmful substances so that they can boil the sap into syrup. Even after all of this, the company must provide all the required documentation and pass another inspection. This process is so tedious so that we can customers can know that our organic maple syrup is the best product possible.

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Lacey Jolley
 

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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