Containers and Maple Syrup

by Tig Tillinghast

Nothing beats glass for a great looking syrup package, not to mention preserving flavor. The problem, though, is that you have to finish your syrup just right for it to consistently look good in glass over the long-haul. We like to make our syrup extra-thick, and this sort of syrup develops sugar crystals eventually, clouding the syrup and creating what looks like a layer of fuzz on the bottom. Still, we pack in glass, because that’s the thick syrup we like, and glass packs the best.

A few years ago, glass looked very expensive relative to the other two common options: tin cans and plastic jugs. But with commodity prices rising so high last year, glass was only about as expensive as the others, depending on how fancy the bottle.

The one liability of glass, however, is the fact that it can quickly cool down syrup, especially with smaller containers, where the mass of glass is similar to that of the syrup. When packing in glass, be sure to have the syrup hot, and to close the lids quickly to keep it sterile.

Tin used to be the old standby, but anyone who has tasted older syrup out of a tin can is a big fan of glass and plastic. The phrase “tinny flavor” came from somewhere. More recently, in the 2008 sugar season, some tin cans sold to sugarers turned out to have been manufactured in China, complete with a petroleum product film coating the inside. I think this scandal might be the nail in the coffin for the metal containers, although those little cabin-shaped ones appear to be quite popular among tourists.

Modern plastic containers used for syrup have special oxygen barriers coating the inside, and they’re pretty effective. My one complaint with them is that sometimes the caps will pop off the larger containers when I put them on their side and they sit for too long. I believe the heat of the syrup makes the threaded seal weaker. While I’ve heard other people complain of a plastic taste with syrup, I’ve never been able to taste any hint of plastic from any maker. I’m told that the older plastic containers – before the days of the oxygen barrier – had more problems.

Syrup has gotten so expensive nowadays (our local food co-op has been selling it for $90 a gallon this whole year) that many people have been resorting to buying smaller sizes. This isn’t terribly practical, though, because people often underestimate how much syrup they use, and those smaller containers are marked up a great deal. The best bet: buy a larger container and repack into more usable smaller ones, like canning jars. For instructions on repacking, click here .

For a family of four using syrup for cooking as well as pancakes, and maybe some warm milk and syrup for a cold winter nightcap, a five gallon container will be empty come Christmas. I can’t explain where it goes, but it does. Those folks would do well to buy in bulk and pack in glass jars. It probably makes less sense to repack smaller containers, although I could see folks splitting a gallon now and again.