Organic Flim-Flam

by Rich Finzer



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In 1967, George C. Scott starred in a delightful little movie entitled The Flim-Flam Man. Scott's character, Mordecai Jones, is always pulling a fast con by passing off something cheap as something expensive, and for the most part, he gets getting away with it. It's a fun little movie about a bona fide yet lovable scoundrel and I never miss a chance to watch it again. However, I never forget though that it's just a movie, a fictional contrivance meant to entertain and amuse. Conversely, I can assure you that getting flim-flammed at the neighborhood grocery is not nearly as entertaining.

During a recent visit to the store, my eyes were drawn to the shelves lined with bottles of maple syrup. There were several varieties available in several sizes of containers. Some were produced by locally based commercial syrup makers while others were distributed under the store brand. What caught my eye was the selection of "organic" maple syrup. Now before I continue, I need to set the record straight on a couple of things.

I have been making my own maple syrup for nearly 20 years. In fact, in 1995, my medium amber grade syrup won the blue ribbon at the New York State Fair. But despite nearly two decades of first hand experience, I'll freely admit that I still don't know everything about making maple syrup. However, I can confidently tell you that there is no such thing as "organic" maple syrup! Or stated another way, all maple syrup is by definition organic. All maple syrup is made exactly the same way from the exact same stuff: the sap from sugar maple trees.

That maple sap is gathered from wild trees, collectively referred to as a "sugar bush." The trees haven't been fertilized, and they haven't been treated with pesticides. And as you can't safely tap a sugar maple until it is roughly 16" in diameter, the tree has probably been growing unattended for nearly 40 years. If a syrup producer fertilized and "pesticized" a tree for all those years, that individual would be a minimum of 60 years old before they could even make a pint of syrup. And the cost of those additional inputs added up over two decades would boost the price of maple syrup well beyond that of 25-year-old bourbon!

For the uninitiated, making maple syrup consists of boiling maple sap to remove most of the 97% by volume of water that sap is comprised of and filtering away the mineral salts that precipitate out during the boiling process. There are no chemical/artificial additives in maple syrup. Boiling simply gets rid of everything that isn't syrup. Boiling, by the way, is a physical as opposed to a chemical process. The syrup is already there. It's just in a highly diluted form. Most importantly, anybody who sells maple syrup to the public must have their syrup inspected by their state agricultural department to ensure that the sugar content/specific gravity meet long established standards. Now back to the grocery aisle.

The 12-ounce store brand bottle of dark amber syrup was priced at $6.99. The 12-ounce "organic" labeled bottle was selling for the outrageous sum of $9.29, just a measly 33% more for the exact same thing. For some items, like fresh vegetables, maybe purchasing the organically grown variety makes sense and makes folks feel better about what they're putting into their bodies. But as all maple syrup is produced in the same manner using the exact same completely organic ingredient from the get-go, it's a fool's errand to waste $2.30 on this currently fashionable environmental buzzword. It's better to spend that money on some eggs, bacon, bread, and milk. Make some American Freedom toast, the best friend maple syrup ever had.

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