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Sticky Situation: When 'Natural' is NOT!
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By Naomi Shulman, SlashFood: Vermonters are rightly proud of their signature export: rich, sweet, sticky, 100% maple syrup. Imitators have never quite been able to replicate it. But one purveyor of imitation syrup has a new product on the shelves that's creating an extra-sticky situation in the Green Mountains. (Full disclosure: I'm a Vermonter born and raised. That's right, this is personal.)

Called Log Cabin All Natural Syrup, the new product is indeed a kind of syrup, and it may technically be "all natural" -- there are no artificial ingredients or preservatives in the stuff. It's also in a new container -- one that just so happens to look exactly like the jugs Vermont farmers have used for decades. But that's where the resemblance ends.
Log Cabin All Natural Syrup is actually a blend of sugar, thickening agents such as xanthan gum, caramel color, and a little bit of actual maple flavor (we're talking 4 percent). Pure Vermont maple syrup, meanwhile, is exactly what its name suggests, with a sole ingredient: maple sap that's been boiled down to pancake-ready thickness.

A real Vermonter will never fall for Log Cabin's tomfoolery, but state officials are worried about all you flatlanders out there. The "syrup" blend is much, much cheaper than the real thing, after all -- and if you don't look closely, you might think you're buying something you're not. Vermont congressman Peter Welch explained the concerns to the FDA: "While most Vermonters have a discerning eye and palate for real maple syrup, the countless consumers outside of our state who have come to expect quality from natural Vermont products may be fooled by this misleading labeling."

Michelle Weese, a spokesperson for Pinnacle Foods, Log Cabin's parent company, told the Associated Press that the company believes their new product "complies with all FDA regulations." While this is a fairly weak endorsement, she may well be right, considering that the FDA doesn't actually define the word "natural."

So, speaking on behalf of my home state: Caveat emptor! If what you want is pure Vermont maple syrup (and trust me, that's what you want), make sure the stuff you're buying has those words on the label.

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