Now we know what is served in the depths of Hades. According to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, there's just too much stuff on supermarket shelves that claims to be maple-flavored but isn't the real thing: "I've always said that in the third ring of hell, you'd be served fake maple syrup on your pancakes and waffles."
Heaven forbid. That's why maple-syrup producers from several states across the country have asked the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on faux maple in products, and want stricter enforcement of food-product labeling. The maple people want strict enforcement of food-product labeling. They say that products like Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal and Hood Maple Walnut Ice Cream don't contain any maple syrup at all.
The letter to the FDA was signed by maple-syrup producer groups from Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin. It alleges deceptive misbranding and beseeches the FDA to take action.
Maple syrup, of course, is the stuff derived from heating the sap of maple trees. It is mighty expensive, too; the Vermont variety sells for an average of about $49 a gallon.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association pointed to several products that, despite using the word "maple" in their product names, don't contain any maple syrup or maple sugar at all. They do, however, contain chemical flavoring and coloring that is supposed to mimic that maple-y flavor. Although the ingredient lists of these products cop to the truth that they don't really contain maple (like, at all), as one maple-syrup producer points out, "How many people, seriously, look at the fine print? A lot of us don't."
The maple-syrup advocates would like to see real maple syrup added to these products. It all comes down to this, says Leahy: "There's no comparison between real maple syrup and these thingamajigs."
False and deceptive claims in labeling have hit the maple-syrup industry before. In 2010, Vermont legislators asked the FDA to crack down on that old stalwart of American breakfasts for decades: Log Cabin All Natural Syrup. They claimed that the addictively sweet stuff of our childhood waffles shouldn't be sold in imitation maple-syrup jugs and labeled "natural" because it just isn't the real thing. They noted that, at the time, Log Cabin contained caramel color, xanthan gum, and 4 percent maple. The manufacturer agreed to remove the caramel coloring from the product, but Vermont officials didn't feel that tweak went far enough. The company has been sued more recently by consumer groups.
So the next time you eat something that purports to be "maple" you might want to check the ingredients. You may be pretty surprised by what you don't find.