Look at a well-stocked shelf of maple syrup and you need to make a well-informed decision. Do you want A or B, Light, Medium or Dark? What does it all mean? Is Grade A better than Grade B? What do the choices on the labels mean?
First, let’s establish that you absolutely want 100 percent pure maple syrup. Most syrups sold are not maple syrup. It’s easy to read a label that says “pancake syrup” or “maple-flavored syrup” and translate that in your mind to “maple syrup,” so read carefully.
Why French toast was invented: to enable us to enjoy 100% pure maple syrup. Photo by Kelly Cline.
Pancake syrups are usually corn syrup or sugar based, and either artificially—flavored or flavored with 1 to 5 percent maple syrup.
Read the label carefully to make sure you are purchasing what you want. Pure maple syrup will have a grade label and state “100% Pure Maple Syrup.”
Pure maple syrup is more expensive, but anything else has a ghost of the flavor. Why bother? (And by the way, pure maple syrup has just 40 calories a tablespoon, compared to 50 for granulated sugar and 56 for corn syrup.)
Grades Of Maple Syrup
The grading system for syrup was established by the USDA based on color.
Color is indicative of neither the quality nor the purity of the syrup—just the strength of the flavor. Generally, the darker the color, the stronger the flavor—so the grade you like will depend on how mapley you like your syrup.
Thus, unlike the U.S. school system, grade A isn’t better or worse than grade B—it’s a question of what you like.
So, who uses which syrup for what? Grade A Medium Amber is the most popular grade sold, but that doesn’t mean it’s the connoisseur’s choice—it’s closest to the artificial supermarket pancake syrup we grew up with. Many people with discerning palates choose the less-widely-available Grade B for its more pronounced maple taste. Once reserved primarily for cooking and baking, its flavor is growing more popular as a table syrup.
Photo of maple syrup courtesy of Coombs Family Farms, which makes syrups that are both USDA-certified organic and kosher-certified by KOF-K.
GRADE OF SYRUP
A Light Amber
Very delicate maple flavor; the USDA describes it as having a smoky taste
A Medium Amber
Stronger yet mild maple flavor, medium-bodied
USES: As a table syrup
A Dark Amber
Robust maple flavor
USES: As a table syrup, in baking and cooking
Heartiest maple flavor
USES: For all purposes above; in cleansing diets
Not available for consumer sale; exceptionally strong in flavor, used as a commercial ingredient
Cooking With Maple Syrup
Sure, you use it on your pancakes, waffles and French toast; but try maple syrup at:
• On oatmeal, crunchy cereal, and biscuits
Lunch & Dinner
• To glaze chicken, duck, pork and salmon
• Glaze a juicy baked ham
• To glaze carrots, green beans and sweet potatoes
• In baked or mashed butternut squash
• In vinaigrettes, marinades, barbecue sauces and chutneys
• In baked beans
• In applesauce
• As a syrup on ice cream or rice pudding
• To sweeten baked apples (just fill the centers of cored apples and bake)
• In pecan pie and gingerbread cookies
• Mix in a crunchy cereal Beverages
• Sweeten iced tea and coffee
• Sweeten hot chocolate
• Make a maple martini
Use 1/2 cup of maple syrup in place of 1 cup of granulated sugar; decrease the liquid in the recipe by one-half.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of maple syrup used in substitution.
Decrease oven temperature by 25°F.
To use maple sugar as a substitute in recipes: use 1/2 to 3/4 cup of maple sugar in place of 1 cup cane sugar.
Storing Maple Syrup
After you’ve purchased good syrup, you need to care for it.
Don’t buy more than you need unless you want to freeze it—maple syrup, like most fine foods, has a year shelf life and then begins to lose its flavor.
Immediately store your maple syrup after purchase in the refrigerator, even if the container has not been opened.
Maple syrup packaged in tin or glass can be stored for up to one year in the refrigerator in its original container. However, some people who buy in large quantities repackage and freeze the syrup and take it out of the freezer as needed (see note below).
Most good maple syrup is not packaged in plastic, because plastic “breathes” and allows air into the container. If you do have maple syrup in plastic and plan to store it for more than three months, pour it into clean glass jars.
If you have too much syrup, just freeze it! Pour it into glass freezer jars to one inch from the top, and freeze.
Maple syrup is delicious, but at 40 calories tablespoon, you can limit what you consume (or at least, be aware of it) by apportioning out servings in 2-tablespoon personal mini pitchers like these. Microwave-safe, you can warm the syrup before serving. They do double-duty measuring as 1-ounce shot glasses, complete with a convenient handle and pouring spout. Available in sets of 3 for $14.95 at Amazon.com. (Price and available are verified at publication but are subject to change.)