Since honey is a no-go and standard white table sugar (and brown sugar, too!) uses bone char—AKA ground up animal bones—to get that bright white color, it’s not uncommon for vegans to sweeten up cookies and stir-fries alike with the fall season staple of maple syrup. The only problem? The healthier alternative might not be the animal-byproduct-free safe bet you assumed.
While the sap itself is totally dependable for vegans—it’s simply tapped from maple trees, after all—the problem originates in how the final product is made. After the sap is collected, it’s taken to the sugarhouse to be boiled down—a process that evaporates the water and caramelizes the sugar, leaving the mixture nice and thick. To reduce the foam on the syrup, conventional producers tend to add in a sneaky ingredient that’s far from vegan-friendly to get the job done.
“Sometimes animal fat is used in the production of maple syrup to defoam the product after it’s been boiled,” says plant-based nutrition coach Courtney Pool. What’s worse is the ingredient isn’t even listed on product labels, so people could go their entire pancake-loving lives without knowing they’re actually eating lard.
“Sometimes animal fat is used in the production of maple syrup to defoam the product after it’s been boiled.” —Courtney Pool, plant-based nutrition coach
There is good news, though: You don’t need animal fat to make maple syrup. The sweet stuff can be defoamed using vegetable-based products instead. So how do you know if you’re choosing the right container? Basically, just pay attention to the labels. According to the Vermont Organic Farmers, any organic product—like this one—can only use certified organic vegetables oils in production. And Pool says kosher brands are typically safe bets, too. But if a product isn’t labeled as certified organic, kosher, or vegan, you can always do a little detective work: “Directly contact the specific maple syrup company to find out whether they use animal products in the production of their product at any stage of the process,” Pool suggests.
Sure, getting a totally pure product might cost you a little more, but if you follow the vegan lifestyle, the extra layer of animal-free protection is priceless. Now go ahead and get your plate ready to enjoy all the cozy fall brunch staples, worry-free.
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