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There are several farmers' markets scattered around the New York City area. Many of them carry bottles or jugs of 100% NY State or Vermont maple syrup. Occasionally I find Canadian maple syrup. (For you Canadian readers - excellent product!!!)

My questions:

  • Is all 100% maple syrup kosher without certification? (It is a natural product, but I don't know what might occur during processing & packaging. AFAIK, these products are package on the farm and come directly from that farm.)

  • If someone knows about specific regulations as it applies to the 3 places that I mentioned, that would make it OK or not OK, please inform us what the problem(s) are.

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There are two problems as explained at this article

There are two major kosher concerns with “pure maple syrup.” First, an observant Jew is required to turn on the evaporator because only an observant Jew is allowed to “light the fire” that cooks a kosher food item. Second, while the sap is boiling, farmers drip animal fat into the mixture to keep it from foaming over the top of its container.

EDIT Please note that it really does not matter what the current type of antifoaming agent used consists of. The fact that an antifoaming agent is added to the maple syrup (especially since it used to be a nonkosher item) would mean that the final product would require a hashgacha to be kosher. (my comment)

“Traditionally they’d take a piece of pork fat, suspend it from a string and the foam would rise, touch it and go down,” says Simenowitz, who instead uses olive oil, pouring in a drop or two at a time.

Is Maple Syrup Always Kosher? also brings up this point.

I know that syrup producers add a small amount of fat to the boiling sap, which prevents it from boiling over. Could they possibly use lard? Vegetable oil? Cream? Butter? And does the butter make it milchig? Chalav stam? Is the amount of fat so minute that it is considered to be batul ba’shishim, the halacha that states that if an ingredient is 1/60th or less of the total ingredients, it is null and void and is considered to “not exist” in the list of ingredients? I know the 1/60th rule works in accidental cases (let’s say a drop of milk dripped into a huge pot of chicken soup – the soup would still be kosher). But that’s in accidental cases – not l’hatchila (planning the 1/60th to begin with, on purpose).

There are some producers who use enclosed boilers which do not require the addition of an ingredient which would prevent the boiling over.

  • 2
    I know that you are merely presenting what you found, so don't take this personally, but I get irritated when processes from almost 100 years ago are still the stuff of kashrut legends. They cite the same nonsense when it comes to Pesah and seltzer or fruit juices being filtered through lard, etc. It is little more than the industry trying to scare people and justify their own existence. Meanwhile, the goyim still view the rabbi as "blessing" the food and charging a hefty price to do so. – user3342 Aug 14 '15 at 15:42
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    ...further, the industry adopts the most mahmir positions, which most of the time were never or rarely used in practical halakhah, and sometimes they even invent their own halakhic positions, and present them to the general Jewish public as halakhic norms. Like needing bishul yisrael for a condiment. It is nigh to ludicrous. What Rav Yitschak Abadi יצ"ו is doing to educate and inform the Jewish community is so vital. Kol tuv. – user3342 Aug 14 '15 at 15:47
  • @Maimonist Note that the fact that this was done and that a nonkosher anti-foaming agent was added means that a hashgacha is required to ensure tht the modern anti-foaming agent is kosher. – sabbahillel Aug 21 '15 at 23:22
  • @sabbahillel - In most modern maple syrup production facilities, no defoaming agents are used at all. The kettles are enclosed, so there is no chance of spillage, and defoaming agents are unnecessary. The rabbi in the article you quoted is mistaken. Lard hasn't been used in commercial maple syrup production for many, many decades. Butter is only used in a few artisanal production operations. Even the chemical defoaming agents are usually surplus to requirements now, because we have sealed kettles. – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 23:31
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    @sabbahillel - No, it doesn't. Thank you for making my point exactly. Kol tuv. – user3342 Aug 22 '15 at 0:24
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As a chef, I can assure you that the use of animal fat as a defoaming agent is no longer a common practice in maple syrup production. In virtually all cases, the role formerly filled by animal fat is now either unnecessary, or it is filled by either a specially manufactured defoaming agent or a small amount of vegetable oil.

The defoaming agent, whichever kind is used, is intended to prevent the syrup from foaming up, spilling over the side of the cooking vessel, and potentially causing a fire. Maple syrup production begins with collecting maple sap. The sap is almost entirely composed of water, and it is sweet, but very diluted. The sap is poured into large vessels, then boiled for an extended period of time. As it boils, the water evaporates, leaving behind the sugar and other compounds that contribute to the flavor of the finished product. The sugar caramelizes, enhancing the flavor and giving the syrup its distinctive color.

However, during the cooking process, the sugar begins to foam. If this foam spills over the top of the vessel and runs down the side, it could reach the heat source and catch on fire. Is this were to happen, the flames would quickly rise up the side of the vessel and set fire to the entire batch of syrup. The reasons why this would be very, very bad should be obvious.

But the largest producers of maple syrup don't need to use any defoaming agents, because the cooking vessels are enormous and totally contained, so there is no possibility of spillage. I'm not sure how a contained (i.e., sealed) vessel can provide venting to allow the water to boil off, but apparently it works.

Throughout the process, excess foam may be skimmed off the surface of the boiling sap and discarded. Many types of materials, such as butter or vegetable oil, have been used to reduce foaming. However, a commercial defoaming agent available in small containers from maple equipment dealers is recommended. The defoamer should be fresh, and only a drop or two is needed. When used in small quantities, defoamers will evaporate without a noticeable trace in the syrup.
- Cornell University

If the label says "100% pure maple syrup", the only ingredients are maple sap and possibly a touch of defoaming agent or vegetable oil.

Further reading:

I called my home town’s kosher hotline and asked, “Does maple syrup need a hechsher (kosher certification)?”

“It’s not absolutely necessary, but it’s better if it does,” was the answer I received from the hotline helper.

I was not satisfied with this answer, because I know that syrup producers add a small amount of fat to the boiling sap, which prevents it from boiling over. Could they possibly use lard? Vegetable oil? Cream? Butter? And does the butter make it milchig? Chalav stam? Is the amount of fat so minute that it is considered to be batul ba’shishim, the halacha that states that if an ingredient is 1/60th or less of the total ingredients, it is null and void and is considered to “not exist” in the list of ingredients? I know the 1/60th rule works in accidental cases (let’s say a drop of milk dripped into a huge pot of chicken soup – the soup would still be kosher). But that’s in accidental cases – not l’hatchila (planning the 1/60th to begin with, on purpose).

I asked to speak with the rabbi in charge.

He told me that butter can be used without a hechsher only if it is made from 100% cream – that certain chemical additives or dyes may not be kosher and so butter requires a hechsher otherwise. But as to the rest – he excused himself and admitted that he simply didn’t know much about the process, and mirthfully added that he was appointing me as his “delegate” to check out maple syrup production first hand, and report my findings.

I started making a few calls to the heimish syrup producers (though truthfully, I doubt there is any sugar producer in Maine who has heard of the word “heimish”). It turns out that very few people use lard as an anti-foaming agent. One fellow uses butter, but he couldn’t tell me which brand of butter. Another guy told me he uses only organic butter, but he didn’t know for sure if it was free of additives. The last place I contacted was most interesting, though until I get there and try it for myself, I can’t tell you if it is the most tasty.

Balsam Ridge started, as most of these places do, as a hobby for its husband-and-wife team. They started by tapping only a few trees, and boiling whatever they got in a large metal pot in their wood shed, producing enough for one or two jugs of syrup for themselves. They started giving away small vials to their friends, whose enthusiasm led them to increase production. They bought a big wood-fired evaporator and started cranking out enough syrup so that they could sell a few jugs to passersby. The downside was that the larger evaporator took hours and hours to boil the sap, and it’s not like you can walk away from a giant vat of boiling syrup. The wood fire needed constant tending and stoking. The syrup had to be constantly supervised so that it wouldn’t boil over, and a small amount of fat was added to prevent this – – until it got to just the right point (7 degrees above the boiling point of water) and the right thickness and consistency. It then needed to be immediately filtered and bottled in sterilized containers. Many nights they would finish past midnight and they were just plain exhausted.

So a couple of years ago, they bought a giant evaporator that is oil-fired, and can boil 50 gallons of sap an hour. No more midnight sap boils for them! Because the 2′ x 8′ evaporator is so large, and completely enclosed, there is little fear of the sap boiling over; they no longer add any fat or anti-foaming agent to the syrup. So while they don’t have kosher certification, this is one example of a syrup product that is not only kosher, but pareve and truly pure syrup. But how does all this automation and modernization affect the taste? Hopefully your Faithful Reporter will let you know after Maine Maple Syrup Sunday!

P.S. I also submitted a query to the OU’s “Webbe Rebbe” online, and got a reply from Rabbi Gold, who I spoke with on the phone to discuss syrup production. He says there are some (including the Nodah BYehuda) that allow for leniency in regards to batul ba’shishim l’hatchila, so it could be that all syrups, even those with questionable fats, could be considered not only kosher, but maybe even pareve. However, the OU’s official policy is to not give a hechsher on those using the 1/60th l’hatchila leniency.

Source

  • Thanks, Chef Wad! What does the vegetable oil do? (BTW, what is your chef specialty / area? Ever been on "Chopped"?) – DanF Aug 14 '15 at 13:10
  • @DanF - The oil is supposed to prevent the boiling sap from producing so much foam that it boils over the top of the vessel, runs down the side, and catches fire. – Wad Cheber Aug 14 '15 at 21:59
  • @DanF I don't really have a specialty. I'm just an ordinary line cook, or sous chef. I usually work in high end restaurants, but I used to spend my summers working at a Boy Scout camp in Rhode Island. I have never been on a cooking show, but I did work with Jacques Pepin once at the headquarters of the James Beard Foundation. The diners included most of the best chefs in the country, including some television personalities. – Wad Cheber Aug 20 '15 at 21:05
  • @If your restaurant were kosher, and I was in your area, I would prob. stop by. One of my son's friends is a chef. When he described how grueling the training and work is, I gained much respect & admiration for all chefs. (My niece hires him, often, for home BBQ, and he makes the most perfect steak I've ever had.) It's not an easy job, esp. in the summer! As we say, Bon Chance or Mazal Tov. – DanF Aug 20 '15 at 21:17
  • @DanF - It is brutal work. Very high intensity, physically and mentally demanding, always multiple things happening at once, an incredibly grueling rapid pace, and the hours are terrible. Almost all the cooks I've known have had substance abuse problems. I'm taking it easy now for a while. After 12 years of the job, my knees gave out on me. The summer job was fun, but I would occasionally look at the meat thermometer in my breast pocket and see that it was registering 160 degrees Farenhheit. – Wad Cheber Aug 20 '15 at 21:23
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Yes. Per Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi

Regarding:

Subject: maple syrup
Message: Is any brand of pure maple syrup KP?

Thanks

Reply: if there are no added ingredients-yes. But I'm pretty sure there are other ingredients-please list
YA

Product in question: Berkley & Jensen Pure maple syrup
ingredients: pure maple syrup

no other ingredients listed

Thanks

Reply: it's ok
YA

Source

  • @DanF My answer and the answer of Yitzchak Abadi is not misleading. His answer is regarding listed ingredients, if it's not listed, then you don't have to worry about it. Why? Because it would be such a small percentage, and it would still be kosher according to Halacha. If you had fish paste that was 99% salmon, and 1% shrimp, it's still kosher. kashrut.org/forum/viewpost.asp?mid=6269&highlight=shrimp Please read more of his rulings and you will see that there truly are no caveats. All maple syrups that list only maple syrup as the ingredient are kosher. – Aaron Aug 12 '15 at 5:25
  • Got it. Thanks for the explanation. I'll have a look at your follow-up link. – DanF Aug 12 '15 at 13:34
  • @Aaron the rule of bitul b'shishim does not apply to an ingredient which is purposely added to the product. In fact it doesn't matter how small the percentage of the item is as long as a non kosher ingredient is purposely added the final food product is not kosher. – Dude Nov 19 '15 at 6:11
  • @Dude Can you source this novel claim? It seems to fly in the face of volumes of traditional Jewish legal exegesis. – Double AA Nov 19 '15 at 7:02
  • @DoubleAA There are several categories of things which cannot become bitul the example I gave is ayn mevatlin issur lechatchila, even if the ratio is a thousand to one it cannot be bittul. – Dude Nov 19 '15 at 14:01

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