In recent times, maple has challenged pumpkin spice for fall flavor supremacy. But at least one legendary food figure is not on Team Maple. And, that has sparked a debate swaying trees from Maine and Vermont to Michigan and West Virginia.
“Basically, what I detest about maple syrup is everything, meaning both texture and flavor,” Sheraton wrote. “As a rule, I do not like intense sweetness, nor do I like syrups unless diluted, as chocolate syrup in soda or honey in hot tea or as the defining ingredient in honey cake.
The whole thing kicked off when Sheraton spotted a New York Timesstory that explored ranch dressing. In response, Sheraton tweeted.
In her Post story, Sheraton said she respected the craftsmen who produce maple syrup, which can be a labor-intensive process.
But in attacking maple, Sheraton acknowledged that she was confronting a key industry in the Northeast and a flavor that is making inroads as a food trend, especially in the beverage market.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American maple syrup production in 2017 was 4.27 million gallons, up 2% from 2016. It estimates that there are 13.3 million taps in maple trees across the country, up 6% from the number in 2016. Each tap yielded enough sap for about one-third of a gallon of maple syrup. It takes about 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
It’s no surprise that Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup, accounting for 1.9 million gallons in 2017. That was more than twice either of the next two states, New York with 760,000 gallons and Maine with 709,000.
The maple syrup output of the United States can’t touch that of Quebec, whose production was about 6.5 million gallons.
The average retail price in the United States for maple syrup was $35 a gallon in 2017, although that can vary by state. In Connecticut, a small maple syrup production state, the average gallon cost $69.50, while it was only $30 in Vermont, where 80% of maple syrup production goes to the industry. That includes maple syrups that aren’t pure maple syrups, but maple syrup mixed with water, flavoring and often corn syrup to make it even sweeter.
And that may be the root of some people’s dislike of what they think is maple syrup.
Corn syrup is listed by Amazon.com as the leading ingredient in Log Cabin Syrup, which Sheraton cited as a reason for her dislike of maple syrup.
“Truth is, as a child I was beguiled by the adorable cabin-shaped can that held that brand of syrup and so I happily poured it over, what else? Pancakes!” she wrote. “As my palate matured, I found that maple flavor tastes cheap, like penny candy, and frankly it is a taste that I do not associate with food.”
Now, as much as I admire Sheraton, I am definitely Team Maple Syrup. A couple of years ago, I took a maple syrup cooking class at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, Massachusetts, north of Boston, and my maple syrup horizons expanded enormously.
Appleton Farms produces and sells its own maple syrup, which is a far different thing than enhanced commercial syrup. I particularly wanted to take the class because my dad, who was raised in New England, regularly tapped our maple trees in Michigan, yielding about a cup of maple syrup each winter.
We made lemonade sweetened with maple syrup, baked apple dumplings, and learned how to substitute maple syrup for other types of sweeteners.
Yes, maple syrup has a distinctive taste, but we were shown how it can be combined with citrus fruits and even herbs to soften the sweetness.
Coffee companies from Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts (soon to be just Dunkin’) have discovered that consumers like maple flavor, and they’ve scurried to give it a space on their fall menus.
Sheraton might shrug at that news. But she was very happy to learn about the reaction her essay had generated.
Sporkful host Dan Pashman posted on Facebook, “I talked to Mimi on the phone yesterday and she said, ‘I wrote an article about why I hate maple syrup. It has ELEVEN HUNDRED COMMENTS! So that’s been fun.'”
If you want to hear Sheraton talk about culinary topics, undoubtedly including maple syrup, she will be the guest with Pashman on four Sporkful episodes over the next few months.
Meanwhile, if you want to hear a defense of maple syrup, come see me.
Micheline Maynard watches trends in the food world. Follow on Twitter @culinarywoman and on Instagram @michelinemaynard.