Real maple syrup has a depth of flavor. It is sweet with undertones of pecan, vanilla, butterscotch, and caramel. While maple syrup has a unique flavor, it also brings out the flavors of other foods. This flavor-enhancing effect of maple syrup makes it a versatile ingredient for many maple syrup recipes.
As a stand-alone product, maple syrup can also be turned into several decadent sweet treats like maple candy, maple butter, and maple sugar.
Pure maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. A small hole is drilled into the trees around waist-height, and a spout is tapped into the hole. When the temperature rises above freezing, the sap flows from the tree, through the spout, and into collection containers.
The sap flowing from the trees is a clear liquid that is only slightly sweet. This raw sap contains between 1% and 4 % sugar. This clear liquid is run through special membranes in reverse osmosis machines to remove some of the water and concentrate the sap to about 20% sugar.
This sap enters an evaporator where the syrup is heated up, evaporating much of the water in the sap. As the fluid becomes more concentrated, it becomes sweeter and changes in color. The color of the syrup can vary from a light golden-brown to bourbon to a dark brown. The homemade maple syrup that emerges after evaporation has about 33% water and 67% sugar.
It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to make around 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.
Pure maple syrup is different from maple-flavored syrups, or pancake syrups. Maple-flavored pancake syrups are usually high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugars with maple flavoring or maple extract and caramel coloring added into the mixture. These syrups are processed to look and taste similar to pure maple syrup. Maple-flavored pancake syrups mostly taste sweet, while pure maple syrup is much like a good wine – it has hints of caramel, pecan, vanilla, and prune.
Some pancake syrups contain maple extract – derived from pure, sweet maple syrup, while others imitate maple flavors by combining extracts from entirely unrelated products. These products can be identified by the words’ natural flavors’, ‘maple-flavored,’ and ‘artificially maple-flavored.’ These products may not even contain any maple syrup or even maple extract. The natural flavors could be obtained from other sources like fenugreek that imitates the taste of homemade syrup exceptionally well.
The high-fructose corn syrup in maple-flavored homemade pancake syrup is not unhealthy in itself. However, it is an added sugar. That means the sweetness is added to a product on top of the natural sweetness inherent to the product. Added sugars like those found in high-fructose corn syrup increase the amount of sugar that you consume and could lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes if taken in more massive amounts.
Real maple syrup does not have added sugars as it is naturally sweet, and that means that you are likely to consume less sugar per serving.
Real maple syrup is graded based on its color and taste. Lighter and more delicate maple syrups are produced at the beginning of the sugaring season, while the darker and stronger flavored syrups are made later in the season.
This grade of maple syrup is made from the sap tapped at the beginning of the sugaring season. It is a light golden and has a subtle maple taste. It is a relatively thin liquid and works very well drizzled over ice cream, mixed into yogurt or pancakes, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
This maple syrup has an amber color and a rich maple taste. It is close to the thickness and consistency of honey, is great on pancakes and waffles, and enhances the flavor of baked goods like muffins, scones, or even cake or pecan pie. It also works very well as a sugar substitute in vinaigrettes.
This maple syrup has a stronger caramelized and maple flavor and is darker in color than the golden and amber syrups. Grade A: Dark, Robust Taste maple syrup is an excellent substitute for brown sugar in recipes and pairs well with fruity dishes.
The end of the sugaring-off season produces this dark maple syrup. The color is darkest, and the flavor is stronger than the other three grades of maple syrup. Grade A: Very Dark, Strong Taste is stickier, almost like molasses, and is excellent for sauces, or as a maple glaze.
Maple syrup is one of nature’s great natural sweeteners. It has several uses, traditional and novel, and continues to evolve its potential as a gourmet ingredient. Beyond being a gourmet ingredient, maple syrup also has many benefits for the human body.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts it into glucose, and this gives your body energy. This glucose is what we refer to when we speak about your blood sugar level. Carbohydrates are in a lot of foods, as well as in products like maple syrup.
Some food is digested, absorbed, and metabolized faster than others. Because these foods pass through your body more quickly, the carbohydrates are converted into glucose more swiftly, and thus they raise your blood sugar level quickly. Your body then produces insulin that helps your cells to absorb and use glucose. Food with more glucose requires more insulin to be secreted.
As your body uses carbohydrates and glucose, your blood sugar level will go down. Food with more carbs and glucose that are digested quickly forces your body to produce a lot of insulin in a short amount of time to use or store the glucose. The sudden increase of energy that comes as a result of the spike in glucose is where the phrase ‘sugar rush’ comes in. These kinds of food have a higher ranking on the Glycemic Index.
Foods that are slower to digest do not produce as many sudden changes to your blood sugar levels and thus do not need your body to produce as much insulin. These foods are lower on the Glycemic Index. Because it slowly releases the glucose into your blood, it provides smaller amounts of energy for more extended periods.
Maple syrup has a relatively low Glycemic Index ranking of 54, while white sugar falls between 58 and 84 depending on the brand. Maple-flavored syrups are around 68. Honey falls between white sugar and pure maple syrup at 58, and agave is the lowest at 19.
The Glycemic Index rating is not the only thing you should consider when choosing which sweetener to use. It’s true that some sweeteners, like maple syrup, bring many other healthy elements to the table. Read about the health benefits of maple syrup here.
You can substitute pure maple syrup for white or brown sugar in your cooking and baking. You can use maple syrup in your cooking and baking, and pretty much whenever a recipe calls for a sweetener.
Because the different grades of maple syrup vary in their sweetness and flavor, using a maple syrup substitute for other sweeteners will depend on the grade you use. It is better to use lighter and more subtle maple syrups as toppings – try drizzling it over bacon – while darker and more robust syrups will work well in cooked dishes and baked goods. It really all depends on just how much maple flavor you want to bring into your meals.
A general guideline when using maple syrup instead of white sugar in your cooking is to use half a cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar. Because maple syrup contains more liquid than white sugar, you will also need to adjust the liquid ratio in your recipe. Use three-quarters of a cup less of other liquids in your recipe.
The maple syrup will give your baked goods a darker color than white granulated sugar would. It would help if you also kept in mind that maple syrup is slightly acidic, affecting how your baked goods rise. You can counter this by adding a quarter to half a teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of maple syrup that you use or add a bit more baking powder.
Another thing to keep in mind is that maple syrup caramelizes at lower temperatures than white granulated sugar, so you will need to set your oven lower.
When substituting maple sugar in place of white sugar, replace one cup of white sugar with approximately two-thirds of a cup to three-quarters of a cup of maple sugar. If you substitute Grade A: Dark color, Robust Taste grade maple syrup for brown sugar, use two-thirds of a cup of syrup for every one cup of sugar.
You can do a lot more with pure maple syrup than just putting it on your pancakes, french toast, or waffles! Maple syrup is one of those ingredients that go well with both sweet and savory dishes. Here are a few ideas:
You can turn maple syrup into maple butter or maple cream – a delicious maple-flavored spread for all kinds of baked goods. To make this, you need to boil real maple syrup (with a bit of salted or unsalted butter if you want) over medium or low heat until it reaches 235°F.
Heating your maple syrup causes more liquid to evaporate, concentrates the maple syrup, and makes it easier to crystalize. The next step is to cool the maple syrup down to around 100°F – promoting crystallization even more. The final step is to stir the syrup to encourage the crystals to form. It might take a while for the crystals to develop, so keep stirring – it is worth it!
As you stir, the syrup will turn an opaque, creamy color. That is when you know your maple butter is done. You can place your maple cream in a jar to use as a spread, or put it into molds, let it cool and set, and eat them as maple candy. If you are making maple candy, you could add walnuts or pecans to the mix for some crunch.
Alternatively, you can take the hot, concentrated syrup (before you begin to stir it) and pour small amounts onto clean, fresh snow or finely crushed ice. Once it is cooled, you will have tasty maple taffy!
Savory recipes in which maple syrup can add some delicious flavor include maple bacon, maple glazed ham or salmon, and maple pulled pork. It also enhances the flavors of vegetables like grilled brussel sprout or sweet potato fries.
You can also add maple syrup to drink recipes like mojitos and martinis. Sweet maple syrup can be used instead of sugar or simple syrups in most drinks. Besides adding it directly to alcoholic beverages, try adding maple syrup to any recipe calling for bourbon.
Infused maple syrup can bring more profound flavor elements to your dishes. To make this, add pure maple syrup to a pan, add whatever you want to infuse it with, and heat the mixture over low heat. Star anise, vanilla extract, orange, bacon, rosemary, and even bourbon add different elements to infused maple syrup. These infused syrups will add a depth of flavor to your maple syrup recipe, and your imagination only limits the options.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you can store pure maple syrup in your pantry or kitchen cupboard for about a year. Once opened, it will keep in your refrigerator for the same period.
It is best to store sealed containers of maple syrup in a cool and dry place, away from direct light, below room temperature. Open containers of maple syrup should be tightly closed and kept in the fridge.
Pure maple syrup is one of those magical ingredients that work in most recipes. It adds a deep, rich flavor and enhances the tastes when you pair it with food, baked goods, or drinks. As maple cream or taffy, it is a tasty treat on its own. The different grades offer different levels of sweetness and intensity of flavor, which one will you experiment with next?