Quebec producers tap into maple water as competition grows abroad

Quebec may lead the maple syrup industry, but as competition grows south of the border, it's tapping into another product: maple water.

Touted for its antioxidant content, sweet 'superwater' marketed as health drink

The Quebec Maple Syrup Federation is encouraging producers to tap into the growing market for maple water. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec may lead the maple syrup industry, but as competition grows south of the border, it's tapping into another product: maple water. 

Last year, the Quebec Maple Syrup Federation (FPAQ) announced it was adding two million taps in the province in an effort to increase production.

Now, it's working to diversify its offer by encouraging producers to join the growing market for the sweet liquid that comes straight from the tree.

The once-exclusive drink, which you could really only taste if you knew someone with tapped trees, is going big and it's going designer. 

A number of Quebec companies are touting the product as a trendy new health drink, boasting its antioxidant content and other nutrients it contains.

"It's 46 vitamins and minerals and you even have polyphenols, so antioxidants, like those you can find in fruit," said Thierry Houillon of Anti Plus, a company selling fruit water. It recently added maple water to its roster. 

Thierry Houillon says his company, Anti Plus, added maple water to its roster of fruit water because of the nutrients it contains. (Radio-Canada)

But its health benefits may be more marketing than remarkable.

Bernard Lavallée, a Montreal-based nutritionist, says maple water is no superfood.

"I'm sorry to burst your bubble," he said. "Just about any product that comes from plants contains [antioxidants]."

Maple water may contain them, but antioxidants are proven to be more beneficial when consumed in fruit and vegetables, Lavallée explained. 

Growing popularity

The key ingredient in maple water, he said, is sugar.  Lavallée said the naturally-flavoured water tastes a lot better than if it contained refined sugar, but it shouldn't be sold as a health product. 

So far, 10 of the province's 14,000 maple producers are certified to sell it, but the Quebec federation representing producers (FPAQ) says the industry potential for maple water is significant. 

The flavoured-superwater trend hasn't quite reached Quebec yet, though.

"Funny enough, it's not something that's well known, even if it's from here," said Amélie Léger, president of Sibon Foods, which sells Necta maple water. "The most demand comes from France, Belgium, Japan, Australia and Germany."

Nathalie Langlois, FPAQ’s director of promotion, innovation and market development, says it took six years of research to create a market pipeline for maple water. (Radio-Canada)

Maple water bottles sell for between $2 and $3 each.

Nathalie Langlois, the FPAQ's director of promotion, innovation and market development, said it took a lot of research to develop ways to conserve the product.

 "We started in 2006 with our scientific research to really validate its composition, then we made the first tests in [the field] in 2012," Langlois said.

With files from Radio-Canada and Canadian Press