It might come as a surprise to some to learn that not all maple syrup is vegan.
Although maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees—and, therefore, should be a plant-derived product—the problem is with how the sap is processed.
When maple sap is boiled in order to thicken it into a syrup, a liquid called a “defoamer” is added to reduce frothing. The ingredients in defoamers vary; they can be made from vegetable oil, but they are sometimes made from animal fat.
What makes things complicated is the fact that maple syrup producers are not legally required to list the defoamer on their ingredient labels. This is because regulatory agencies consider the amount of defoamer to be insignificant—according to one producer, the ratio of defoamer to maple syrup is about 1:5000.
Essentially, then, even if the label on a bottle reads, “Pure Maple Syrup”, it might still contain a product from slaughtered animals.
Veganism involves a commitment to doing our very best to reject animal exploitation in all areas of our lives. We recognize that animals are sentient beings who value their lives; they are not things or replaceable resources to be used for human consumption.
By avoiding animal products even in situations when it might be inconvenient or seem insignificant, we are staying true to our principles and making a public statement that we believe the lives of other animals matter.
Although we might not be able to avoid every animal product in every situation (such as those in electronic devices and roads), maple syrup is certainly not a necessary part of our lives. For that reason, if we’re not sure whether a particular maple syrup product is vegan, we can, and should, avoid it.
That being said, there are ways to determine whether or not a particular brand of maple syrup is vegan-friendly:
If you purchase your maple syrup directly from a maple syrup producer, the simplest solution is to ask the producer about the ingredients in their defoamer. Some producers may not use a defoamer at all.
If you’re not able to speak with the producer directly, you can check whether the bottle displays the “Canada Organic” logo. Maple syrup products displaying the “Canada Organic” logo must not use animal-derived defoamers. Of course, as with any vegan product, there is always the risk of mistakes being made or guidelines being overlooked.
However, Canada Organic Regime guidelines state that “Only plant-based organic anti-foaming products that have not been chemically altered are permitted. Examples include Pennsylvania maple wood […] and organic vegetable oils, except those with allergenic potential.”
The “USDA Organic” logo, on the other hand, unfortunately does not guarantee that maple syrup is vegan-friendly. The FDA guidelines state that “[s]ubstances that are added to a food for their technical or functional effect in the processing but are present in the finished food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food” do not need to be listed on the label. I have contacted the USDA, the FDA, and others, and I have found no one who was aware of any law that required that the defoamer used in USDA organic maple syrup be vegan-friendly.
Kosher-certified maple syrups may be vegan-friendly, as it’s generally assumed that maple syrup must not contain animal-derived defoamers in order to be certified as kosher. However, I have received somewhat mixed messages from kosher certification agencies about this.
Even though the ingredients in the defoamer probably won’t be listed on the label, it’s still a good idea to check the ingredient list on any food product you buy. Some maple syrup brands add other ingredients—in addition to defoamer—to their products, and these ingredients may or may not be vegan.
Finally, if you’re unclear as to why a drop or two of animal-based defoamer should make you decidedly uncomfortable, please take a look at our article Hidden Animal Fats.
Whether you choose to use maple syrup or not, a healthy vegan diet is based primarily on whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. If you’re looking for recipes and meal ideas, why not take a look at the Food & Recipes section of this website, or one of the many vegan recipe blogs available on the Internet?