The expectation when you walk into a delicatessen is of unique products, hand-made artisan products, products that have a ethical message behind them. So often though the products on offer are not upon close inspection anything but.
It is a shame to often see branded products on both the deli shelves and on the supermarket shelf. It is difficult for producers to make profit at the best of times, and the urge to exploit a ever increasing footfall through supermarket is tempting. With land prices and rental forcing many small food shops out of London and other cities, the ability for the local deli to keep its foothold relies on us all promoting unique products that are also sustainable, ethical and have low environmental impact. It is the only way to ensure they do not get swallowed up by the supermarkets and they will if they continue to sell popular brands.
But I digress a little. We love what we do and what we produce. It is very hands on.
From our local forests, the pine and fir buds have to be picked in a very short time to optimise the oils and therefore the bosky flavour you expect – the taste of the forests.
With the same recipes handed down, and local knowledge and controls over harvesting, this sustainable product could be encouraged throughout Europe. Germany, Andorra, Austria and Italy make Pine and Fir Syrups, as do some of the American states – but not many. We are the only producer of a syrup that has no preservatives or additives, that is slowly simmered to produce a rich tasting syrup. But although in American the use of conifers as well as maples to produce syrups is widely known, as is the case on a local level in Europe, only now in the united Kingdom are “foragers” showing pines, firs, beach trees can provide an alternative to maple syrup. In fact maple syrup, re-boiled many times, has its limitations as a cooking ingredient, it burns easily, and has a viscous consistency not pleasant unless combined in baking products or to glaze meats; and cane based syrup, has no flavour enhancement – it is simply sweet and burns once heated. The conifer syrups do not burn so readily, can be used neat or warmed through, have a thinner consistency suitable for marinade mixing, or flavour drinks. Neat, they are thick enough for feathering, drizzling and glazing, but thin enough not to swamp the delicate flavours of the foods they are paired with.
The conifer syrups have flavour diversity. The forests they are picked from have diversity. Maple plantations are on the change. The following articles show how profit drives changes that Europe could benefit if local artisan shops promoted local or European produced products. Maple syrup production is going battery farm and this has consequences – on land use, on animal population and price.
A friend of mine, who is Vegan, uses maple syrup as an alternative to honey. Honey is animal derived and therefore not acceptable. Fine, we get that, but almond milk is derived from huge plantations in the USA, pollinated by bees and the industy is like mass bee slave labour camps.
Maple is heading the same way. Vacuum extraction of syrup over more months than currently possible leads to higher production, lower prices in the shops to allow more farmers into the market, and plantation planting of de-capitated saplings. It is a business I could not associate with.
But we are finding it an uphill climb to encourage consumers away from these big industrial food producers, onto smaller artisan producers, whose products are made from a wider range of natures bounty. The maple producers will take over more land, genetically modify their crops and make maple syrup cheap. If you thought we had a sugar crisis, then this could be the next one. We see palm sugar on many products. De-forestation due to this crop is on the increase.
But who is to say we wouldn’t have mass planting of firs and pines? We already have those plantations in place as timber crops in managed and sustainable forests. The picking season is very short in May and June, and the quantities strictly licenced. In Romania we have to refer to a local authority for access to the picking areas. Locals are only allowed to harvest for their own private use, for commerciality it is restricted. Like any crop, it can be planted, but this is not about banning maples, or stopping the planting of forests to harvest, but more a reminder that by encouraging diversity, you spread the pressure on nature, you leave wild-life intact and impinge less on the environment. You also allow small holders to profit from their own produce, and create local profit centres that do not rely on huge tracts of land that result in mass production, mechanisation and ultimately unemployment. A little change goes a long way.
Next time a deli is unsure about trying a new product, please think about the origin of your product and its impact on nature and diet. The conifer syrups have a lower sugar content too. Unlike cane sugar, maple and conifer syrups do have minerals and antioxidants. Pine syrup is used on a local basis back in Romania for soothing throat infections. It is high in vitamin C. For mountain walkers, it is a sweet pick-me-up…Red Bull without all the sugar.
I want all experimental cooks, those of us who love to try new things, encourage diversity in local deli shops to move away from branded goods, to embrace the huge range of great European products we have. Cheeses are an example. Many are not readily found in supermarkets due to the limited production levels and price. The USA is now producing more ranges of cheese than they have ever done. It is a good thing and we will probably see these coming into the market. But likewise we would like to see other tree syrups being encouraged to provide an alternative to the mass produced maple coming from North America and Canada.
If you are vegan and would like to try our syrup, please go to our website shop www.ionsyrup.com