Jul/23/2009 06:40 AM Filed in: cider | Apples
This is something of a rant, set off by a machine I saw in a catalog that treats maple sap with UV light. Why might you run maple sap through UV? Sap is boiled for hours to produce syrup, arguably an hours-long pasteurization. The reason is not food safety, but consistency. The maple flavor is actually produced by bacteria in the sap, and the longer the bacteria are active, the more maple flavor the syrup has. For a producer to have a consistent product, big operations keep sap chilled and zap it with UV to neutralize those bacteria. The result? A full season of "Fancy" grade syrup, pure sweet sugar with minimal maple flavor. And for those who like their maple syrup to be dark and maple-flavored? We had better hope that small producers using traditional methods continue to make syrup that we can get our hands on.
Why am I writing about maple syrup? Because this is illustrative of one of the impacts of our industrial food system. Consumers expect that something labeled "maple syrup" from a specific producer will taste exactly the same every time they buy it. This runs counter to the traditional method of producing maple syrup, in which flavor varies depending on the temperature and when in the season the maple sap was flowing. By using UV light and refrigeration tanks we lose that variability - one more aspect of the spectrum of flavor in natural foods that we lose without ever knowing it existed.
This all applies to our cider and apples. Many people ask us to describe the apples for each variety, and I find that difficult, because the apples vary so much over the course of the season. Cider is the same way - we will make cider from one apple variety a number of times in the season, and each time it will be very different. Minimal processing and eating foods as fresh as possible allow you to enjoy the subtle variations of these natural foods, whether that be an apple off the tree still warm from the sun, or a glass of fresh pressed cider that has gone from apple to cider in two steps (grind up apples, press out juice). In addition, organically raised foods encounter richer, more diverse soils, allowing the food to be more complex, more nutritious (check the Rodale Institute for studies that confirm this), and arguably richer in flavor as well.
Our industrialized food system has worked hard to make foods conform to rigid definitions that serve the purposes of marketing and distribution, not nutrition and flavor. People used to celebrate the differences in foods over the course of a season, or from region to region. I encourage all of us to seek out the diversity of flavors to be found in natural foods.