Why Do Maple Syrup Bottles Have Handles?

Nothing beats the scent of pancakes that are just removed off the griddle in the morning. When you reach across the table for the bottle of maple syrup to put out your stack, the handle seems absurdly small. If we’re being completely honest, the small handle that is situated on the side of the bottle isn’t really functional, and your fingers have undoubtedly been caught in it several times. So why are they there?

Believe it or not, there is a rationale for the tiny handles on maple syrup bottles, but you’ll need to be familiar with some background information to figure it out.

The origins of maple syrup

According to Jean-Franois Lozier, a curator at the Canadian Museum of History who specializes in French North American history, “What was created since the beginning of time by Indigenous people was maple sugar because that kept more easily than the syrupy form. Syrup could not be stored easily as a liquid, but dried, hardened maple sugar could be easily packaged in conventional birch bark baskets.

The usage and manufacturing of maple syrup didn’t begin to overtake maple sugar until the late 19th century. Tin cans, which were more effective for packaging and shipping, became more popular when early Canadian colonists adopted the Indigenous tradition.

Why is maple syrup packaged in glass bottles today?

Maple syrup cannot just be poured into any container and left alone. Three factors need to be taken into account: temperature, time, and air. The syrup should be kept in a thoroughly airtight container in the refrigerator to maintain its quality. Today’s common glass bottles, which you may still find on grocery store shelves, serve a dual purpose by preserving the syrup’s flavor for a longer period of time by preventing oxidation and showcasing its deep amber color.

So what’s with the tiny handles?

Stoneware with a salt coating was the Tupperware of the late 1800s. The hefty circular ceramic jugs had equally huge handles that made them easier to carry and were used to hold anything else, including molasses and whiskey, even though they weren’t normally used to store maple syrup. They were quickly being phased out and replaced with a less expensive alternativeglass.

According to Lozier, maple syrup manufacturers were more interested in reinventing an old jug design and selling their product as something historic.

They did this to connect the idea of maple syrup with their product and the perception that people in the 19th century still held of those crocks. In essence, the tiny handles that have come to be associated with bottles of maple syrup were only included as a decorative feature and a nod to the enormous ceramic jugs that historically adorned every home.

Take a moment to appreciate this subtle design gesture the next time you have a taste for maple syrup.

Why are handles on jugs?

So why bother when a smooth bottle would accomplish the trick just as well without the difficulty of having these small handles?

The most popular response on the internet is that the handles are a holdover from the time when most jars were substantial earthenware jars. When you’re carrying five pounds of liquid, the handle comes in handy, but not when you can just as easily hold the entire bottle in the palm of your hand.

Tiny handles are now synonymous with authentic maple syrup to all of us thanks to marketing wizardry and nostalgia, so businesses keep putting them on bottles.

The little handle is an illustration of a skeuomorph, which is a really cool little term and a lot of fun to say.

Skeuomorphs, which are described as “A maintained but no longer functional stylistic trait,” are ubiquitous.

They are the kind of components that, when an object was first created in its original substance, were necessary but have since become purely decorative accents with no practical use.

A interesting collection of more skeuomorphs may be found on Wikipedia, such as the brass rivets on your trousers, which merely hide more useful steel rivets, or the spokes on hubcaps, which harken back to earlier wheels that actually need spokes. Even the fluting on Greek and Roman columns is said to be a holdover from a time when timber rather than stone was employed to support roofs and beams. Even after switching to stone, the fluting on the wooden columns was kept because it improved drainage and made the columns stronger.

Why are bottles of maple syrup always made of glass?

The memories of making pure maple syrup are brought back by horse-drawn sleighs and buckets hung from trees. The imagery survives even though such traditional methods are incredibly uncommon in the maple syrup industry nowadays. The containers have changed over time, but the marketing message has not. Glass bottles and, to a lesser extent, plastic jugs have replaced the metal tins of the past.

Is the packing material for maple syrup important given the changes in the industry and the use of diverse materials? Which is superior: glass, plastic, or metal?

Concerns about the preservation of the grade and flavor of my pure Vermont maple syrup, the environment, shipping convenience, and consumer presentation came up when I looked at the type of container I wanted to utilize.

Unbelievable discovery: oxygen can go through plastic. Seriously. Plastic, as opposed to metal and glass, allows oxygen to slowly infiltrate through and reach the maple syrup inside. The impact is generally known, but most people are unaware of it, so it’s somewhat of a dirty little secret. Unfortunately, this causes the maple syrup to darken as a result of the oxygen. Data from The University of Vermont in April 2020 showed that when maple syrup was kept in frequently used HDPE plastic bottles, light transmission—the quality used to grade maple syrup—declined by 2.6% monthly.

The required levels of light transmission for the various classes are as follows:

  • The light transmission of “Golden” syrup is 75% or higher.
  • “Amber” syrup ranges from 50% to 74.9%.
  • Dark syrup ranges from 25% to 49.9%.
  • Less than 25% of syrup is “Very Dark.”

If kept in a typical plastic jar, the maple syrup will lose a full grade in less than a year at a loss of 2.6% each month. Quality control is challenging as a result. Important information: When the light transmission is at its lowest position on the scale, the packers of maple syrup normally pack. For instance, when amber syrup is packed, it normally has a slight percentage over 50%. Prior to taking the initial measurements, the test samples in UVM’s experiment really dropped out of the grade range.

The sale of maple syrup in stores is audited by the State of Vermont. The entire lot must be taken off the shelf when a product doesn’t pass muster or has other quality problems. Recent findings from the VAAFM inspector revealed that 17% of the samples of maple syrup they tested on store shelves were below the advertised grade. That’s more than 1 in 6 students who disregarded the grading guidelines.

Sales made via the internet are not graded. I recently purchased a small container of Vermont maple syrup marketed as a “top seller” online. I was interested in the cheap maple syrup being offered through unreported web retailers. The jug’s expiration date was 2022, so I figured the quality would be good. I took some from the jug, put it in a sample jar, and used my 2021 grading kit to check.

Evidently, the syrup was not amber in color. In actuality, it was only a little bit above Dark. Let’s assume that it has a 30% light transmission to be charitable. It required at least 50% to be considered Amber grade. What a large delta! The syrup would have been below the Dark level and into the Very Dark range if it had been left in the jug until it expired.

A polyvinylidene chloride copolymer has lately been applied to the exterior of the containers by the plastics manufacturers. As a result, the oxygen migration through the plastic maple syrup containers is slowed to a 0.8% monthly decrease in light transmission. Many maple producers might not want to pay for those additional costs associated with the coatings on the containers. It could be confusing to identify which kind of plastic jug you are purchasing because they come with or without the coating. Any plastic container of syrup contains a good chance that the grade listed on the label is not accurate.

The flavor must be affected if oxygen infiltration can alter the color in such a dramatic way. I’m not aware of any studies examining the effects of preserving the same syrup in various containers over time on flavor, although it would be fascinating. The amount of my flavor research is limited to blind taste testing, which I do love. I frequently use my wife as the test subject for my line-up of shot glasses.

I presented four samples to my wife after examining the syrup’s hue in the out-of-grade jug. Put your eyes closed. These are them. Try each one. When she tasted the subpar syrup, her face twisted. She gave them another go, with the same outcome. “This one seems weird in some way. It possesses a flavor of some kind. I had to fill in the gap with, “plastic? I queried. “YES! I’m done now! I won’t be eating that. Although the evaluation in this section was undoubtedly qualitative, one thing is certain: we would feel embarrassed to serve “such stuff” to an uninvited guest.

Metal cans also have drawbacks. For many years, they were used to pack maple syrup, but not as frequently these days. To prevent the syrup from tasting metallic, it is advised to only keep in tin cans for up to three months. A batch of cans imported from abroad had some form of contamination in them about ten years ago. That most definitely served as a warning to quality control.

I’ll admit that I didn’t really understand what “infinitely recyclable” meant until lately. I’ve always been a fervent recycler, removing recyclables from the trash whenever I saw them in the incorrect bin and rinsing the plastic containers of my peanut butter. I knew very little. The plastics business spreads the idea that plastic is used repeatedly in order to increase plastic use. The majority of the jugs we obediently rinse and transport to the transfer station are recycled once, sometimes twice.

Contrarily, glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely. They can be applied repeatedly. Each material has an environmental cost associated with it. But if one can be used repeatedly, it is a fairly obvious decision.

For liquids, the transportation regulations are actually fairly onerous. There are three main guidelines: the liquid must be triple-wrapped, there must be enough absorbent material to completely absorb the liquid, and screw top caps must be secured (thus the annoying tape on lids) (one of those must be water-proof). Although it seems excessive, I guess that a gallon of maple syrup could wreck havoc on a USPS facility.

While glass and plastic containers are not exempt, metal cans must have their lids fastened and are not subject to the regulations for absorbent materials or triple packing. That’s true, even if the package also contains a few of those air bubble pillows, the laws are broken when a plastic syrup jug is moving around inside of a large cardboard box.

Beautiful maple syrup! Why would you conceal it in a plastic or metal can? When the light shines through an unopened bottle, it seems to be a brilliant jewel, according to a consumer I spoke with yesterday.

Why are there divots on milk gallons?

Whether you want whole milk, 2% milk, or skim milk, all of the plastic milk jugs have an inverted circle molded into one side, which is a common feature regardless of your preference. If you consume milk, you’ve definitely noticed this circle, but do you know its clever explanation?

Your milk jug’s concave circle on the side actually gives the jug its structural strength. If your fridge had a full gallon of milk with flat, stiff sides, it would be fine just resting on the shelf; however, if it fell to the floor, it would probably burst. That concave circle contributes to the avoidance of that scenario. The circular flips outward when a jug strikes the ground, giving the milk somewhere to go as it swells on impact. The container is made more flexible and robust by including some literal wiggle room in the design.

As the milk nears its expiration date, the same function is helpful. In milk, there are bacteria that eventually release gases. The flexible dimple prevents the jug from bursting as pressure inside the jug increases as the gases gather. Simply place a milk jug in the freezer to witness a more extreme illustration of this process. Due to the fact that liquids expand when frozen, freezing a bottle or can of soda can ultimately result in a broken container and a mess in your freezer. However, the milk jug’s inverted circle makes it easier for that expansion to occur, so you could put your milk in the freezer without worrying about it turning into a wet bomb.

Why does the side of a milk container have a circle on it?

Even if the milk is not dropped on the ground, the indents are still in use. During a gallon of milk’s shelf life, a few (harmless!) microorganisms inside the sealed jug create gas. The indentations occasionally protrude outward because they allow the jug to expand slightly to make room for the additional air. That is also a strong hint to verify the expiration date again. The likelihood of the milk jug bulging outward increases with milk age.

Because of such indentations, milk can also be completely frozen if you frequently purchase more milk than you can use before it expires. Milk expands when it freezes, just like water. The jug may expand when the milk freezes thanks to the circular indentations, then immediately pop back into place once the milk has thawed.

There you have it, then. You probably never imagined learning so much about milk jug design, but information truly is power, right? You now have a fascinating fact to discuss at the breakfast table!