Sweet n Sustainable Maple Syrup

Photo: istockphoto.com/ImageInnovation
Buy local and FSC-certified. Here are 4 reasons to indulge your sweet tooth with Canadian maple syrup.

It’s sugaring off season and a great time to celebrate one of Canada’s heritage foods: maple syrup. There are more reasons than ever to indulge in the sweet stuff, not least the fact that it’s sustainable. Here are a few.

1) It’s as local as they come

Canada supplies 85 percent of the world’s maple syrup, according to Agriculture Canada. True, it’s not local to all Canadians—91 percent of Canada’s maple syrup is produced in the province of Quebec, followed by New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island—but this sugary treat is a lot more “local” than sugar cane and many other nature-derived sweeteners. So it’s a blessing to locavores, who are trying to lessen their carbon footprint by sourcing food products locally.

2) It could disappear

A March 2006 report by Environment Canada's Adaptation and Impacts Research Division suggests that climate change could spell disaster for Canada’s sugar maples—and the industry they support. Sap only flows for short period of time every spring and is highly sensitive to climatic conditions: the air must be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, with an optimum temperature range of -5°C to +5°C.

According to the report, global climate models project that, over the coming century, a warming climate will cause sugar maple forests to shift two degrees of latitude north. In fact, it is already happening. In the past decade, the flow of sap has started earlier than usual in some parts the continent, and the duration of the season is decreasing.

    Sap flow can also be affected by precipitation, snow pack, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and ozone, and acid rain. The latter causes a loss of nutrients in the ecosystem, which affects forest productivity. According to Environment Canada’s EnviroZine, “Some estimates put annual timber losses at $197 million from reduced forest growth and $89 million from damage to the maple syrup industry in eastern Canada.”

3) It keeps us in trees

Maple trees mean money, providing an economic incentive to keep sugar-bearing forests—and the ecosystems they’re part of—intact and healthy.

Canada exports maple syrup to nearly 45 countries, and global demand is on the rise. Take Japan, which is second only to the United States as an importer of Canadian maple syrup. “Maple product imports to Japan were approximately 8.6 million pounds in 2008, an increase of some 7.2% compared to 2007," says Serge Beaulieu, president of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “The Japanese market is especially loyal to the product.”

Non-timber forest products, such as maple syrup, honey, berries, mushrooms, are increasingly factoring into plans to protect the boreal forest by linking conservation with economic development. Of course, harvesting maple syrup and other products from forests is not without consequence, but if the process is well managed, it can help to ensure the long-term survival of large swaths of forest.

In fact, the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada, a certification and labeling system that ensures that wood products come from responsibly managed forests, is now certifying maple syrup. Woodlots in New Brunswick and southern Ontario have received FSC certification. Scott Davis, FSC’s forest certification coordinator, says, “The woodlot owners that participate in our certification program are eligible to market and sell their syrup as FSC certified once they agree to some conditions. The syrup is really the same as any other—we are just recognizing the responsible management that went into the woodlot that created the sap and syrup.”

Certified organic maple syrup is also available. National organic agricultural standards were introduced in 2006, and for maple syrup production they govern everything from the maintenance and development of the sugar bush, to the collection and storage of the maple sap, to the processing of the sap into syrup and derived products. The standard also applies to the sanitation of equipment and storage of the finished products. In Quebec, the Reserved Designations Act has governed organic designation since February 2000. It’s standards for maple syrup production can be viewed here.

    As of 2005, Quebec had 279 certified organic maple syrup farms in 2005, Ontario and New Brunswick each had eight respectively, and Nova Scotia had 3 farms.

4) It’s more versatile than ever

A drizzle of maple syrup makes just about any dish—sweet or savoury—irresistible. And today, there are plenty of new options in maple-based products: In addition to maple butter, there’s maple vinegar, maple concentrate and maple flakes—all of which allow you to get creative in kitchen.

It’s not surprising then that maple products continue to inspire Canadian chefs and cookbook authors. Here are just a couple of mouth-watering dishes you can make with this golden syrup, straight from some of the country’s most dedicated foodies: Caramelized Apple Crepes with Maple Syrup, featuring apples cooked with butter and maple syrup then rolled in crepes, from Bonnie Stern’s Friday Night Dinners; and, Canadian Kebobs, featuring sirloin marinated in maple syrup, Canadian scotch whisky, cloves and more, from Anita Stewart’s Flavours of Canada.

 For more recipe ideas or to plan local outing with the kids, visit La Route de l’Erable, which highlights Quebec’s maple syrup producers by region.