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Maple Syrup Makers Don’t Want An ‘Added Sugar’ Label

At the end of the season, sugarmakers have to pull thousands of taps by hand. Photo by John Dillon for VPR

At the end of the season, sugarmakers have to pull thousands of taps by hand. Photo by John Dillon for VPR

Maple syrup producers take pride in their pure, natural product. So when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new labels to say maple syrup contains “added sugar,” producers fought back.

The outrage is particularly strong in Vermont, the nation’s top producer of maple syrup, where it’s illegal to adulterate maple syrup with cane or beet sugar and sell it as the real thing.

At Slopeside Syrup, in Richmond Roger Brown and his brother Doug are cleaning up from a season when they made about 6,600 gallons of syrup.

Parts of the operation are high tech. Pumps and tubes help deliver the sap to holding tanks; a reverse osmosis machine concentrates the sweetness in the sap before boiling. But they’ve spent the weeks since the sap run ended hiking 600 very steep acres to pull some 23,000 taps from trees by hand.

“I think you pull about a thousand spouts per day, per person,” Roger Brown said.

“On a long day,” his brother Doug chimed in.

The crew moves quickly through the woods, which on this May day are full of birdsong and blessedly free of black flies. Brown uses a long tool with a hammer claw on the end to pull the spouts. He caps the line and it seals with the vacuum pressure. The vacuum also helps clear the line of old sap.

This hard work is at the heart of what make their product different from the other stuff called “syrup” on store shelves.

That’s why Brown thought the FDA’s “added sugar” label might make sense.

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