If you love pancakes, then you most probably love maple syrups, too. Aren’t they just the perfect pair?
But as a vegan, you need to be careful when it comes to sugary syrups. Vegans know how sugars are commonly not vegan. Soooo, This brings us to the question:
Is maple syrup vegan?
The answer? Not all maple syrups are vegan.
Now, what can make a maple syrup non-vegan? And how can you choose the vegan-friendly brands?
I have the answers for you, right here. So look no further, and just keep reading!
How Are Maple Syrups Made?
To start getting to the bottom of this, let’s first take a look at the production process of maple syrups. What does it take to make them?
As the name suggests, maple syrup comes from the maple tree. Well, the maple tree’s sap, to be exact. The production process is similar to how table sugar is made, with just a few differences.
Before I proceed, let me just clarify something. A lot of people will refer to maple syrup as pancake syrup since maple is a popular syrup for pancakes.
But they are NOT THE SAME. Pancake syrup is high-fructose corn syrup with a maple flavor, which is why some would call it the fake maple syrup.
Okay? Now back to maple syrup, the real one.
There are different species of the maple tree, although it is more common to use red maple, black maple, and sugar maple.
Maple trees are known to be abundant in Canada. In fact, it’s been a symbol of the country for many years now. I mean, who hasn’t seen the Canadian flag and that leaf?
So it’s no surprise that the largest producer of maple syrups worldwide is actually Canada.
Producing syrups from maple trees is quite a long process. This is because the maple tree undergoes changes throughout the year. These changes that happen each season determine a maple tree’s readiness to release its sap.
During summer, maple trees store its sugar into starch for storage throughout autumn and winter. Producers will have to wait until spring for the trees to get warm and convert its starch back to sugar.
Sugaring season in the summer only lasts for 4 to 6 weeks. This means producers will have to make the most of it if they want more syrups made.
Here are the common processes done to produce the perfect maple syrup for those fluffy pancakes (and whatever needs sweetening!):
Collection By Tapping Trees
To collect the sap, drilling holes on maple trees is necessary. This is ideally done before winter ends, in anticipation of spring time when the sap is at its sweetest.
Freezing and thawing processes in varying patterns may also be done to extract the sap through pressure.
Saps then accumulate in the pipelines, which goes to storage tanks. Collecting saps can be done either manually through buckets or mechanically through the use of vacuum pumps.
In the storage tanks, the sap undergoes reverse osmosis to reduce its water content. Raw sap straight from the tree is clear like water and only contains about 2% of sugar.
This means that tons of sap must be taken from trees to make a significant amount of maple syrup.
According to Vermont Maple, it usually takes 40 gallons of maple sap just to produce a gallon of maple syrup. Whoa!
Reducing the sap’s water content is very helpful for the next process.
Similar to the production process of sugars, the maple’s sap also requires evaporation. This reduces more water significantly, which leaves a thick and sweet syrup.
Evaporation is typically done through boiling, which also caramelizes the sap but may also leave bubbles or foams.
To refine the syrup, it must undergo filtration. This process improves the taste, color, and clarity of the syrup. Filtration also eliminates sugar sands, the solid particles that form from the sap’s natural minerals after boiling.
For maple syrups to be sold commercially, it must have a minimum density of 66% sugar. To determine the density level, manufacturers use a sap or syrup hydrometer. It’s also preferable to use at least two methods of density tests to ensure accuracy of reading.
If the syrup doesn’t meet the density requirements, an adjustment can made through another filtration process.
Density is important because lower levels can risk fermentation and mold growth. Higher levels, on the other hand, will create unwanted sugar crystals.
The USDA implements a grading system for maple syrups according to its color, taste, and quality. This includes: Grade A (highest), Grade B, and substandard. This helps consumers to identify high quality maple syrup.
Other Minerals and Compounds
Pure maple syrup also contains:
Common Ingredients In Maple Syrups
What can make a maple syrup non-vegan? It’s time to find that out!
Traditional maple syrup uses maple sap only, and nothing else. However, commercial production has already come up with other additional ingredients to improve the syrup’s appearance and taste, and to lengthen shelf-life.
Here are some of them:
- Caramel color
- Artificial and natural flavors
- Potassium sorbate
- Sulfur dioxide
- Sodium benzoate
These are all fine, although artificial and natural flavors are often questionable when details are left out.
More importantly, there’s a sneaky ingredient that packages don’t even list: LARD. Yes, the animal fat!
Some manufacturers use lard to defoam maple syrup after the boiling process. This is not necessary though, since vegetable fats can work just the same. This is why some maple syrups are not really vegan.
PETA’s Case Against Maple Syrups From Canada
Producing 84% of the maple syrup supply worldwide, it is easy to think that Canada would have the best maple syrups.
Although most maple syrups from Canada are perfectly fine, PETA just recently called for a boycott on Canadian maple syrups. The reason? The country’s infamous and massive seal slaughter.
Canada’s annual seal hunt is considered to be the world’s largest slaughter of marine mammals. Just how massive is it? According to Humane Society, hundreds of thousands of harp seals are cruelly slaughtered each year.
Despite government regulations for humane killing, the lack of enforcement allows fishermen to continue with their cruel ways.
Honestly, the details I’ve read about this commercial slaughter are just shocking and horrendous. No wonder organizations like PETA went as far as boycotting Canadian maple syrups. Anything to put an end to animal cruelty.
However, I personally think it’s unfair to take it on a product that has no direct responsibility over the matter. It’s not like the palm industry’s direct responsibility over wildlife destruction, right?
PETA’s case against Canadian maple syrups isn’t entirely ethical because there is no direct responsibility. However, it’s still up to you, especially if you’re a strict vegan, to decide to treat Canadian maple syrups as non-vegan. Based on this knowledge, that is.
So What Makes A Maple Syrup Vegan? What Makes It Not?
Only three things can make maple syrups NOT vegan:
- If it is manufactured in facilities that also produce honey, dairy, and other non-vegan food items.
- If lard or any animal fat was used for defoaming the syrup.
- If it contains flavors or ingredients with dairy or animal products.
Now, which maple syrups are vegan?
While maple syrup is naturally vegan, commercial manufacturing processes can ruin that easily. Here are some things you can look for in the label:
- Vegan-friendly (if not on the label, the brand’s website may have this info)
- Made of 100% Pure Maple (do not confuse this with “made FROM 100% maple”!)
- Organic maple syrup
If you are in doubt, you can always contact the manufacturer about it. Be your own investigator!
Vegan Maple Syrup Brands
Now of course I’d like to make things easier for you, my fellow vegans. I’ve made a list of some of the most popular vegan maple syrups that are easy to find. Yes, I did the homework for you!
Here you go:
Maple Syrup FAQs
1. Is maple syrup healthy?
You’ve probably seen a lot of claims that say maple syrup is healthier than sugar. I believe it’s more apt to say less unhealthy. Despite some minerals in it, maple syrup is still a sweetener, which you must only use sparingly. In short, it’s not healthy.
2. Is raw maple syrup vegan?
Yes, it is. But only because an actual raw maple syrup is the sap directly from the tree. This means it has not undergone any treatment and processing, so it’s watery and does not have as much sweetness as the processed ones.
3. Is maple syrup dairy-free?
The production of maple syrup does not require any dairy products, so naturally, it is dairy-free. However, some manufacturers may produce their maple syrups in the same facility they use to process honey and dairy products.
This may risk cross-contamination of maple syrups with non-vegan food items.
4. Is maple flavored syrup vegan?
It depends on the rest of the ingredients. Maple flavor is naturally vegan, but some sweet syrups may also contain honey and dairy products. Check the ingredients to be sure.
5. Is Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup vegan?
Its list of ingredients appear vegan-okay. However, there is not enough evidence about its “natural and artificial flavors”, which may contain dairy and other animal products.
6. Is Golden syrup vegan?
Also known as light treacle, golden syrup is another liquid sweetener that looks like maple syrup. It is made from refined sugar cane, so as long as bone char is not used in the process, golden syrup is vegan. Lyle’s Golden Syrup, however, is vegan.
7. Is Log Cabin syrup vegan?
The Log Cabin syrup is a mixture of corn syrup and maple syrup, which also uses “artificial and natural flavors”. Products with such ingredients must be taken with caution. I’d say, use at your own risk. If you’re a strict vegan who prefers to be sure, it’s best to avoid it.
8. Is pure maple syrup vegan?
Yes, it is! Pure maple syrup (check the ingredient list for this) means there is nothing else but maple sap in it. Ideally, no other flavors, enhancers or preservatives.
Vegan Maple Syrup Recipe
Most maple recipes out there are vegan. However, most of them contain sugar and maple extract. That may taste like maple syrup alright, but technically, that’s only a maple-flavored sugar syrup.
To make your own real maple syrup, you will need maple sap or maple water to start with. If you have maple trees in your yard, then you just need to tap them (in the right weather conditions). If not, you can just buy maple water, which is easier.
DIY maple syrup is pretty simple, you just boil, filter, reheat, then store! But it takes a lot of time! Your whole day’s time, in fact. Are you ready for that?
If you are, here’s a comprehensive procedure from The Art Of Doing Stuff:
What you’ll need:
- A stock pot with lid
- An evaporation pan (roasting pan, at least 5” deep)
- A regular pot (for finishing)
- Propane burner for outdoor boiling and evaporation
- Gas stove for indoor boiling (finishing)
- Paper liners for filter
- Hydrometer/hydrotherm or a refractometer
- Microwaveable container for filtration
- Bottles with cap for storage
The only ingredient you’ll need:
- Maple sap/water (as much as you want)
- Pour maple water or sap into stock pot. Heat it up with the lid on.
- Once hot, transfer the syrup into the evaporation pan. Heat up more sap/water in the stock pot if you need more.
- When the syrup evaporates and reduces, add more heated syrup from the stock pot. Keep doing this until you reach the quantity you want. This may take hours, which is why it’s best done outdoors. Doing this indoors will make your house sticky.
- Using your hydrometer or refractometer, measure the syrup’s temperature. Once it reaches 213⁰F, and the color becomes darker, you can transfer it to your finishing pot indoors.
- On the finishing pot, continue boiling it to 219⁰F to get the right syrup consistency. Using a pot instead of a pan in this stage helps to avoid burning the syrup.
- While still boiling, check the consistency by scooping off a spoonful for a drip test. Let the syrup fall back into the pot from the spoon. The final drop should leave a tiny thread of tail. Once you get that, your syrup is ready for filtration!
- Clamp enough filters on your microwaveable container and pour the syrup while still hot. The heat will make the process faster. Avoid squeezing out the filter or you’ll get sediments in your syrup. Just leave it to do its job, probably for 15 minutes or so.
- Once filtration is complete, reheat the syrup in the microwave. Aim for a final temperature of anywhere from 170⁰F to 190⁰F.
- Now you can transfer your syrup in the glass bottles! Just make sure your bottles are warm when you do this. When done, twist the cap on and place the bottle on its side so it touches the underside of the cap. This helps to sterilize and seal the cap.
Remember to follow temperature requirements to get the right syrup consistency! Going below the given temperature will yield a thin syrup that will spoil easily. On the other hand, too much boiling will result in sugar crystals.
Maple syrup is naturally vegan. However, as most maple syrups these days are highly-processed, it is best to stick to brands with a vegan-friendly label. Brands who are transparent enough about their ingredients are also a good choice.
What’s your favorite vegan maple syrup brand? Have you also tried making your own? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.