Maple Syrup: What’s really on your pancakes?

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Food Advice
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Maple syrup is serious business in New England. In the fourth grade, my class took a trip to a working Sugar House in Northern New Hampshire. They brought us through each stage of the process, teaching us about how to tap trees, how to boil it forever until it becomes something else, and then how to process it in copper pots and then do more stuff to it…well I don’t exactly remember everything. But, what I do remember was at the end of the trip, we were treated to pancakes topped with freshly made Grade A, light amber, nectar of gods maple syrup. I couldn’t help but act like Oliver Twist and say, “Please sir, I want some more.” At the Sugar House, these requests were never denied.

Like many households, I was brought up with Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth. Their happy faces always meant that pancakes were coming and I couldn’t have been happier. But what was actually contained in those bottles and why didn’t they taste anything like I had on my field trip? I would not investigate this question for more than 15 years.

Here is a picture of the ingredients section from the back of an Aunt Jemima original maple syrup bottle.

What I’m wondering is: what part of this comes from a maple tree? Here’s a breakdown of what all these ingredients are:

Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup: these are sweeteners made from maize (that’s right, I said maize) and are one of the most commonly used ingredients in all American processed foods.

Water: If you don’t know, you’re probably a zombie.

Cellulose Gum: “cellulose derivative with carboxymethyl groups (-CH2-COOH) bound to some of the hydroxyl groups of the glucopyranose monomers that make up the cellulose backbone.” That doesn’t sound like it comes from nature, but it does. This is a vegetable based stabilizer so the ingredients don’t all fall apart and let you in on the secret that this isn’t maple syrup.

Caramel Color: because a mixture of corn syrup and water would not be the same color as maple syrup, they add food dye to make us believe. Oh the horror!

Salt: my nickname in middle school (that I couldn’t shake until well after high school. Chemically, you know this as NaCl. For this, salt is used as a flavor enhancer.

Sodium Benzoate and Sorbic Acid: at least here they tell you they are preservatives so the bottles can sit on supermarket shelves for years before expiring.

Artificial and Natural Flavors: the secret blend of aromas to fool us into thinking this is maple syrup. Clever.

Sodium Hexametaphosphate: this is actually used in lots of foods, but most commonly it is used as a protein stabilizer or emulsifier.

Yes, pure maple syrup is much more expensive. But I can also tell you that a little goes a long way and your $13 jug of pure maple syrup can last just as long as the bottles of corn syrup and caramel coloring. For the money, my pancakes are topped with pure maple all the way. This stuff above, I used for marinades.

So readers, how do you prefer your pancakes?

  1. Andrea says:

    We have always only used real maple syrup. Sadly, I know people who don’t like it and will ONLY use the pretend stuff … even though I point out IMITATION MAPLE FLAVORING. I just shake my head.

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