Imitation flavorings tend to be frowned upon these days, or, at least, not respected very much. No one wants “chocolate-flavored” candy if they can have real chocolate instead. But there is one imitation flavor that is commonly eaten without complaint in the US and Canada — maple.
The “maple” syrup that most people have on their pancakes and waffles isn’t made of maple at all. (In the US, if the label calls it “maple syrup,” it’s supposed to be 100% pure maple. But the majority of syrup sold in grocery stores is plain old “pancake syrup,” and that’s the artificial stuff.) It tastes reasonably similar to maple syrup, and it’s fine for what it is, but it’s still an imitation. Most grocery store pancake syrups, as you can see here on the Aunt Jemima website, are corn syrup with added colorings, preservatives, and natural and artificial flavorings.
Throughout the 20th century, however, many homemakers made a much simpler artificial maple syrup with only three ingredients: granulated sugar, water, and the flavor extract Mapleine.
Mapleine was (and is) a product of the Crescent Manufacturing Company in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. In 1905, a Crescent chemist invented Mapleine, “a wholesome, vegetable extract, made from roots and herbs” (according to a 1906 ad in The Pacific Monthly, pictured on the right). The formula has always been secret, but a modern Mapleine package lists the following ingredients: “Water, natural flavorings, caramel color, alcohol (7%), phosphoric acid, vanillin, and sulfiting agents.”
In the product’s early years, Crescent did not (perhaps) communicate quite as well as they could have that Mapleine was, in fact, not maple at all. For example, the package pictured in the Pacific Monthly ad features a large maple leaf in the design, and does not mention at all on the front that the flavor is not real maple. One of the earliest ads for Mapleine, from a 1905 issue of The Pacific Monthly, calls it “The new Maple Sap,” with no mention of its artificial nature.
The United States government took issue with Crescent’s packaging, and in 1909, the case of The United States of America vs. 300 Cases of “Mapleine” ended up in court. The government charged that the cases were illegally labeled “Crescent Mapleine” on the outside, and that those words would indicate that the product contained maple. Crescent contended that the labeling on the cartons and bottles inside the cases, which stated “Mapleine, a Vegetable Product Producing a Flavor Similar to Maple,” should be taken into consideration. (This defense of Mapleine from a local Seattle perspective, from a 1909 issue of The Coast, is interesting reading.)
A jury found Crescent guilty of misbranding, after which the company reached an agreement with the government that the name “Mapleine” could continue to be used, as long as all labeling was modified to plainly show that the product was an imitation maple flavor. The modifications were made, and Mapleine stayed on the market.
This 1908 ad, published during the same month in which those 300 cases of Mapleine were seized in Chicago on the charge of misbranding, shows that Crescent was already taking pains to clearly label the bottles and ads. The ad leads with the not particularly enticing paragraph “Mapleine has nothing to do with maple syrup—except the flavor. Neither is it a substitute or even an imitation of maple syrup but an original flavoring with the Genuine Maple Flavor.” The bottle pictured now contains a clear disclaimer.
In 1909, Crescent hosted a large Mapleine display at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and described Mapleine, perhaps with a bit of exaggeration, as a “household word” that “spread the fame of Seattle throughout the Western hemisphere.” The booth at the A.Y.P., standing between booths for Carnation Milk (also a local product, at the time, but currently owned by Nestle) and Jell-O, was proudly marked “Seattle, Wash.” in large letters.* Mapleine is still sold today, but Crescent was sold to McCormick and Company, Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland in 1989, and Mapleine no longer promotes Seattle on its packaging.
In the next few decades, wartime and depression frugality—along with a lot of advertising and recipe booklets from Crescent—caused Mapleine to grow even more popular. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll post advertising and recipes from Mapleine’s heyday; in Part 3, I’ll make a Mapleine Pie.
*(Editorial note added after this post was published.) On further examination of the picture, it seems possible that the “Seattle, Wash.” lettering on the booth was added to the photo after retouching. However, I cannot be certain of this. The University of Washington has a photo of the same booth, but not only has that area of the booth been clearly retouched in the UW copy, but there are some other small differences that make it seem likely the photos were taken at different times, so the UW photo does not necessarily confirm anything.