When it comes to packaging, Canadian maple producers cannot simply throw their syrup in containers and call it a day. The packaging process for maple syrup is more complex than you think since specific requirements have to be met for the products to be sold. Otherwise, there is a high risk that your favorite syrup quickly becomes contaminated by mold, which would most likely ruin your whole experience.
In order for the maple syrup to be safely stored, producers must use the hot-packing method, which means the syrup has to be poured at 85°C (185°F). This ensures the sterilization of the containers, as the heat kills any spoilage organism that can be found in bottles, cans and jugs. Those have to be pre-heated as well so their content does not cool down too fast. As hot-packing is mandatory, containers have to be able to withstand hot temperatures and must be completely airtight when shut.
If you have purchased maple syrup before, you have probably noticed how every container is different. Glass bottles, metal cans and plastic jugs are the most commonly found in “sugar shacks” and in shops. While some producers are known to exclusively use one or two types of containers, a lot of them actually use the three of them at the same time. In fact, their choice depends on the precise purpose the containers are intended for, as each type has its pros and cons. For example, the use of glass bottles might not be appropriate for all situations, and the same goes for metals cans or plastic jugs.
The classic metal can
Both the U.S. and Canada have a particularly long history with metal cans, as they have been used since the 19th century. In the maple leaf country, and more especially in the province of Quebec, the round tin can is considered to be a true symbol of the maple syrup industry. It has been adopted in the 1950’s and is still widely used by producers in the province. In the United States, the square metal can seems to be a go-to for many “sugarmakers” alike, notably in the state of Vermont.
The metal or tin can is generally used to store small to medium amounts of maple syrup and is far from being the most expensive option. It has the capacity to maintain the quality of maple syrup for a long time, which is quite convenient. Plus, it is almost unbreakable. Unfortunately, certain metal containers lose their hermeticity once they are opened, and there is a risk for the syrup to crystallize or mold much quicker than usual. Also, metal cans might rust if not stored properly and even leave a tin taste if the syrup is stored for too long.
The handy plastic jug
Due to its low cost, the plastic jug is still a quite popular alternative to metal cans. It is usually preferred to store larger quantities of syrup and is often used when maple syrup is to be sold to restaurants and bakeries. Its material is lightweight and, if you do not care about the appearance of the container, it can still be appropriate for you to bring home. Unfortunately, plastic jugs do not give the syrup a sufficient longevity, especially compared to the glass bottle and the metal can. Indeed, a lot of oxygen goes through the plastic of the jugs, which is the reason why some people say it “breathes”. Repackaging the syrup in airtight containers or freezing it could prove wonderful ideas to better preserve its quality. You could also try and purchase smaller jugs in order to avoid any waste, or even choose another type of container if you plan to store the maple syrup for an extended period of time.
The environmental impact of such containers can also be a concern to some people, as plastic is usually not as sustainable as glass or metal. Those two can be easily reused at home and be given new purposes, while plastic is often thrown away. Some types of plastic are even known to release chemicals in our food over time, so that might be another reason not to store the syrup in its original plastic container for very long.
The fancy glass bottle
Glass bottles have become more popular over the years and are now one of the most – if not the most – popular maple syrup containers available. Their transparent material allows for a vast array of shapes and designs, from the maple leaf shape to more classic aesthetics. Glass containers provide a fantastic first impression and are especially eye-catching for customers who prefer to shop with their eyes. Indeed, they provide a fun experience and their looks can be almost as important as the syrup inside, as the bottle embodies all the essence of the product and its brand. Glass bottles allow you to truly appreciate the tint of the syrup before purchasing it, which is not the case with opaque cans and jugs.
As this type of container is a bit more expensive to produce, it is mostly used to store smaller amounts of syrup. Often found in boutiques and shops, they make great gifts for your friends and family. Another great thing about them is they can maintain the maple syrup quality for a long period of time if sealed properly – even longer than metal cans. That is why most people use glass bottles to repackage their syrup. On the other hand, glass is easier to break than other containers, though some producers choose a sturdier type of glass in order to avoid this disadvantage. Also, if stored for too long in a particularly illuminated place, the transparency of the bottles can cause the syrup to slightly change color. Do not worry though, it will always remain both sweet and tasty.
My colleagues chose the glass bottle because of its many advantages, and more especially for its capacity to keep the deliciousness of the maple syrup almost indefinitely. They believe the transparency of the glass is highly reminiscent of the pureness of their maple syrup. And just like it is the case for fine wine, I like to think producers who use glass bottles have absolutely nothing to hide.
In the end, whether it is stored in a metal, plastic or glass container, maple syrup should always be put in the fridge. Each container has its own advantages, but when it comes to keeping your favorite maple sweetness fresh and delightful for as long as possible, the glass and metal alternatives might be more appropriate.