Maple Syrup — a great sweetener

I do not know too many people who don’t just love the flavor of real maple syrup. Yes, we often pour it over our pancakes, waffles or French toast but it can be used in many more ways in the kitchen. In this Cooking Tip, let’s explore what maple syrup is and how to use it.

Maple syrup is made from the sap from certain species of maple trees. The three major species of maples are the sugar maple, red maple and the silver maple with the sugar variety being the main tree. Vermont is the leading producer in the nation although it is also produced in other states.

It takes about 30 to 40 years for a sugar maple to reach the required size for tapping. According to NYS Maple, the trees produce and store starch from May through August. As the thaws begin and the snow melts, starch turns into sugar (sucrose). The sap starts to run at the time of thawing but before the leaf buds open. Although sources vary, an average tap can produce from 5 to 20 gallons of sap.

Maple sap, however, is not the same as maple syrup. The sap is a clear and slightly sweet liquid with a consistency close to water. Maple syrup is produced by boiling the maple sap and thus concentrating it into maple syrup. According to experts, it takes about 40 parts of sap to make 1 part syrup. Another way to think about it is that it takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup. This should give you an idea about why maple syrup is relatively expensive.

When I first started buying and using maple syrup in the kitchen, I always grabbed Grade B rather than Grade A. It wasn’t an inferior syrup (all the grades had similar quality) but was darker in color and had a deeper flavor, which was great for cooking and baking. At that time, there were three grades: A (light), B (dark), and C (very dark, and only sold commercially).

Then, in 2014 Vermont introduced a new grading system which was adopted by the USDA in 2015. Many people like it better but I personally think it became a bit more confusing for the consumer.

The USDA regulations use both color and flavor in the grading of maple syrup. There are now four grades although some states and Canada may use slightly different terminology. According to the USDA, this is how the grades break down.

Grade A Light Amber – this used to be called “Fancy”. It is a light golden color with a mild and delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. Some say this is the best grade for making maple candy and maple cream.

Grade A Medium Amber – formerly called “Grade A Medium Amber” or “Grade A Dark Amber”, this is a bit darker with more maple flavor. It is the most popular grade of table syrup and is usually made after the sugaring season begins to warm, about mid-season.

Grade A Dark Amber – older names include “Grade A Dark Amber” or “Grade B”; it is darker yet, with a stronger maple flavor. It is usually made later in the season as the days get longer and warmer.

Grade B – this might also be called “Grade C” and used to be called “Grade A Very Dark”. It is sometimes called “Cooking Syrup” or “Processing Grade” and is made late in the season. It is very dark, with a very strong maple flavor, as well as some caramel flavor. Many people use this for table syrup, but because of its strong flavor, it is often used for cooking, baking and flavoring in special foods.

Besides pouring it on the aforementioned pancakes, how else can maple syrup be used in the kitchen? Here are just a few ideas.

  • Candy – caramels (my personal favorite), hard candy, fudge
  • Baking – breads, cookies, fruit crisps, custards, pies, blondies
  • Savory cooking – glaze for salmon or chicken, candied bacon, veggies such as brussels sprouts, carrots and sweet potatoes, BBQ sauce, sauces for pork
  • Vinaigrettes

If you have a recipe that uses a different sweetener and you want to try to swap in maple syrup, here are some items to consider.

Most sources tell you to substitute ¾ cup maple syrup for 1 cup of white sugar in baked goods while reducing other liquids in the recipe by about 3 tablespoons. However, King Arthur Baking advises to replace it 1 to 1 but do recommend decreasing other liquids by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution. If there is no liquid called for in the recipe, they suggest adding about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup used. They also caution to make sure the maple syrup is at room temperature as cold syrup may cause the other ingredients to clump, especially if baking with butter.

Just as with honey, excess browning may occur. With honey, the recommendation is to reduce the oven temperature by 75°F. With maple syrup, the risk of browning is not as great and you can probably get by with a reduction of 25°F.

Substituting maple for other liquid sweeteners is also possible. However, as honey, molasses and corn syrup are thicker than maple syrup, the recommendation is to start by trying ¾ cup maple syrup plus ¼ cup of white sugar for every 1 cup of the other liquid sweetener.

Another great product to try is granulated maple sugar which is made from continuing the concentration step until a dry, granulated product is achieved. It can be substituted for white sugar one-to-one.

I am not even going to mention “pancake syrup”. Why? Look at this list of ingredients: “High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, cellulosegum, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors, sodium hexametaphosphate,sorbic acid and sodium benzoate (preservatives).” Now, look at the ingredient list for pure maple syrup: “Pure Maple Syrup”. Which do you want to eat? Which do you want to feed your family?

Maple syrup – the last thing I have to say is YUM! Do you agree or not?