Maple Cream and Other Dessert Treats From Kosherfest

Continuing our review of some of the more interesting plant-based items from Kosherfest. This time, sweets.

Cary and Main Maple Crème

I have a lot of memories revolving around maple trees from my childhood. The beautiful fall colors, the helicopter seeds, and syrup. REAL maple syrup.

Not the artificially flavored junk corn syrup sold for pancakes and served in restaurants. We used the real thing, made from the boiled sap of sugar maples from upstate New York or New England. On pancakes and Belgian waffles. On vanilla ice cream. One of my favorite childhood treats (which I passed on to my children) is making snow candy, pictured here. Check out the footnote for how-to.[1]

And of course, every trip to New England meant buying maple sugar candy.

maple candy

Today, I use maple syrup or sugar as a sweetener for all kinds of dishes. On squash and sweet potatoes. In salad dressings and sauces, marinades for grilled vegetables, and in fruit smoothies. There is absolutely nothing like real maple syrup, and it is an essential staple in my kitchen. But it was not always easy to get kosher maple syrup and maple syrup products, and to understand that, one needs to understand how it is made.

Here is a summary[2]  (for a longer, more detailed version with pictures, click here):

Maple trees (at least 40 years old and 10-12 inches in diameter) are tapped for their sap during a 4-6 week period in the early spring, when a pattern of night freezing and day thawing temperatures build up pressure within the trees causing the sap to flow from the tap holes. The season ends as the weather warms and leaf buds form. The process starts with drilling a tap hole into a maple tree and inserting a spout to direct the sap to either a bucket or into tubing that sends the sap to a large collection tank at the sugar house or a central collection area using a vacuum pump. Maple sap is mostly crystal-clear water with about 2% sugar content, so the sap must be reduced to remove water and get a sweet, viscous consistency. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. This is done through evaporation, sometimes starting with reverse osmosis but always involving boiling. During this time, clouds of sweet maple scented steam billow from the sugarhouse. As the water in the sap evaporates, the sap thickens until it reaches 219 degrees Fahrenheit. It is then filtered, adjusted for density, and graded for flavor and color. Grades include:

  • Light Amber or Golden: from the start of the season, mild and delicate and great in yogurt or on ice cream
  • Amber or Medium Amber: classic rich maple flavor, great in salad dressings and desserts
  • Dark Robust, Dark Amber or Very Dark Amber: pronounced, robust maple flavor for cooking, baking, sauces, fruit dishes
  • Very Dark or Black Amber (from the end of the season, strong, very pronounced flavor, rich and distinctive, often used in glazes, sauces and other cooking

Evaporation through boiling is where the kosher issues come in. A small hobby producer might use large pots that are used for other purposes during the year, and that can be a problem for kosher certification. However, commercial producers have dedicated equipment called continuous flow evaporators. In both cases, pure grade A syrup does not contain any other ingredient. 

However, as the sap boils, changes in sugar concentration and composition cause surface bubbling that can cause syrup to boil over. To avoid this, very small quantities of a defoaming agent, usually some form of oil or fat, is added to tame the bubbles. The agent evaporates or atomizes out of the syrup during the boiling process. It is considered a processing aid, not an ingredient, and is not detectable in the finished syrup. Indeed, to be legal for sale as grade A syrup, there cannot be any off flavor and any residue would be considered a flavor defect. The defoamer is typically made from glycerides and propylene glycol or an organic certified vegetable oil. A maple expert at Cornell University told me that he has never encountered any commercial producer using animal fat. However, hobbyists and small farms selling syrup directly may use butter, cream, or bacon fat to defoam. Maple industry trade groups educate new producers on proper defoaming with commercial grade defoamers that are all vegetable based. The most widely used defoamer appears to be ATMOS which is kosher certified.

Several sources on the Internet have suggested that commercial producers use enclosed evaporator that do not require defoamers. However, in correspondence with maple experts in New England, I have learned that such use is quite rare, even for large producers. One should always assume that a defoamer is used in any maple syrup or maple syrup product. 

maple sap in evaporator foaming
Foaming sap in an evaporator at Cedarvale Maple. According to their website, they use butter to reduce the foam. (Note: Cedarvale is not under kosher supervision)

Kosher certification serves two purposes: to guarantee that the equipment is dedicated to syrup production, and to ensure that the defoamer is a kosher pareve product. Some authorities have suggested that even if the defoaming agent were not kosher, it would not be an issue since a) the amount is not halachically significant (far less than 1:60), b) it atomizes out of the finished product, and c) no one wants the flavor to impact the syrup (and it is not detectable by experts). However, the prevailing custom is to require a kosher pareve defoaming agent in order to obtain certification. Many sugarhouses, large and small, now have kosher approval and certified maple syrup from both is fairly ubiquitous in the market. 

Harder to find are kosher certified items like maple cream, maple candy, and granulated maple sugar, which are made from syrup that is boiled further to 236°F, 264°F, and 272°F respectively, and then churned as it cools until it forms microcrystals,[3] so that it thickens into either a peanut butter-like consistency, semi-hard candy, or sugar crystals. While all can be made at home, it requires patience, care, and muscle (I tried and it is quite a workout).[4] Thus, it is always a treat to find these products kosher certified.[5]

cary and main maple creme

Cary and Main Co. is one such provisioner of maple products – in this case, organic maple crème from either golden amber (delicate) or medium amber (rich, robust) syrup. At Kosherfest, I was able to taste their spread, which is excellent on toasted bread and English muffins. One could also mix it with a plain cream cheese or yogurt, or with mustard for a glaze. Substitute it for honey in salad dressings or put it on challah. Bake it into cookies, use it as a filling in donuts, make a PB&MC, or, if you are like me, just eat it straight from the jar. They also make maple scented candles. Order direct online. Certified by Canyon Kosher (Rabbi Dovid Weiss, Chabad of Topanga, CA).

An interesting related product is birch syrup. Never heard of it? Until recently, neither had I. Like maple syrup, birch syrup is evaporated sap. Birch sap is lower in sugar, and the syrup is very viscous and darkFor those who think it might be similar in taste to birch beer, it is not, as those flavors are found exclusively in the bark. Birch syrup is a slightly sweet, tangy condiment that can be substituted for molasses or traditional balsamic vinegar. It is typically used with grilled foods, savory sauces, glazes, and cocktails. Varieties can be more sweet or tangy, often with complex caramel and wood overtones and a hint of sour cherry or raspberry.

It is available with kosher and organic certification online from New Leaf Tree Syrups (KVH) and Georgia Mountain of Vermont (Earth Kosher). Many maple farms are adding this syrup to their lineup and using the same equipment, so expect to see more kosher brands over time.


NOTES

[1] Boil maple syrup to the soft ball stage and drizzle onto freshly fallen snow. Be careful, boiling syrup splatters and can cause severe burns. Makes a very sticky and delicious snow day treat.

[2] Sources: vermontmaple.org, puremaplefromcanada.com;  Email correspondence with Aaron Wightman, Co-Director, Cornell Maple Program.

[3] A process not dissimilar to making creamy ice cream, where the custard is churned as it freezes to prevent large crystals from forming.

[4] Boiling syrup can be both messy and risky, and the churning is a good work out for the arms—it would likely burn out a home mixer motor.

[5] My latest find was L.L. Bean’s maple candy, which has the EK hechsher from Maine.

If you can’t get Cary and Main, or if are looking for other maple products like candy or sugar, there are a few companies that make a variety of kosher certified products. Check in specialty stores and online: Maple Grove Farms (VT), Shady Maple Farms (Canada), and Butternut Mountain Farm (VT), all under the OU; Bens Sugar Shack (NH) and Parkers Real Maple (NY), both under the OK; Adirondack Maple Farms (NY), Kof-K / KFP; Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company (VT), KVH; Maine Maple and Honey and LL Bean, EK; KE Farm (MA), Orthodox Technical Consultants; Parker Family Farm (NY), RAM-VK; Maple Hollow (WI), CRC; and Canadian companies Brien, Old Mill Mapleworks, Nokomis, Godbout, Produit de l’érable St-Ferdinand B, Black Shank, Prestige, Keejo Maple Farm, and Bretelles, all MK.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Gelato

How is gelato different from all other ice creams? Ice cream uses more cream than milk and includes egg yolks, but gelato uses more milk and no egg yolks. Gelato is creamer, smoother, and denser than most ice creams. Ice cream has at least 10% (and often 14-25%) butterfat, but gelato has only 4-9%. Gelato has less air than most American ice creams (super premium ice creams also have less air than most commercial American ice creams). Gelato is served about 10-15 degrees warmer than ice cream (about 7-12°F, enhancing its intense flavors. It is traditionally served with a spade, not a scoop.[6] It is not vegan of course, unless it is made with a vegan milk.

There are several commercial kosher gelatos on the market, but none with the flavor variety that you will find with Miele Gelato of Norwood, NJ. Most of their product is chalav yisrael dairy gelato, but they also make both plant-based milk versions of many of their flavors, as well as fruit sorbetos (sorbets) in more flavors than I have seen anywhere. Here are the flavor lists from their catalog, but the two delicious vegan gelatos I tried at the show were versions of their dairy flavors and not listed in their catalog: Malabi (rose water with pistachio and coconut) and Banana Nutella, so perhaps other vegan gelato flavors beyond those listed will be available. Supervision by Bet Din Minchas Chinuch Tartikov.

[6] Source: https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/news/2015/06/gelato-vs-ice-cream-whats-the-difference

Miele Vegan Gelato and Sorbetto Flavors

Vegan gelato: Coconut With Coconut Milk, Toasted Almond With Rice Milk, Tropical Fruits With Coconut Milk, Sicilian Pistachio With Rice Milk, Madagascar Vanilla With Rice Milk, Dark Belgium Chocolate with Rice Milk.

Sorbeto: Apricot, Banana, Blackberry, Blood Orange, Blueberry, Cantaloupe, Melon, Cherry, Chocolate, Coconut, Cucumber, Coffee, Ginger Lemon, Grape, Green Apple, Green Tea, Guava, Kiwi, Lemon, Lemon Basil, Lemon Cardamom, Lemon Lime, Lemon Mint, Lime, Lychee, Mango, Mixed Berry, Mandarin, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Passion Fruit Lemonade, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Pink Grapefruit, Plum, Pomegranate, Prickly Pear, Raspberry, Strawberry, Strawberry Lemonade, Strawberry Banana, Watermelon.

Zina’s Fruit Crisps

One of the first and best products I got to taste at Kosherfest was Zina’s Fruit Crisps. A unique snack, these delicious light crispy snacks have a very intense fruit flavor. Maybe not as nutritious as fresh fruits and vegetables, but certainly less perishable and messy; perfect for taking along on a hike, day trip, or car ride, and a sweet alternative to salty chips. They come in three flavor combinations: Pineapple + Apple, Pineapple + Strawberry, and Pineapple + Apple + Beets + Kale. My family and I loved these. While it is probably not a great idea, we would snack on them all day. Available online. Certified by the OU.

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