The Sweeter of the Season
Maple syrup warms. Unlike sugar that simply sweetens, maple adds character and nutrients where sugar does not. Maple syrup, made from the boiled sap from maple trees, can easily replace sugar in many recipes. Just make sure the flavor pairs well with what you’re cooking. I love it in baked goods, to make hot chocolate, glazing meat or tofu, and paired with fall vegetables. I’m using it exclusively in my Fall 20/20 Recipe Collection.
You can buy maple syrup anywhere, but should you?
Last summer I visited British Colombia, Canada. Everywhere I went that sold souvenir magnets and photo images of the grandeur also sold maple syrup. I get it, it’s Canada, and the land of maple bars and bacon maple bars: maple is the Canadian go-to flavor- even the fish gets the maple treatment (it’s really good too). But the funny thing is that none of the maple syrup was from anywhere close, I was in the middle of an evergreen forest- it was all shipped in from Eastern Canada. It was no different from me buying Vermont maple syrup at home. It wasn’t a local special, and I could really get it anywhere, and with the price jacked up for tourists, I wasn’t buying.
I rarely reach for it at the grocery store either. When I have, it’s only for convenience. I know I can get better stuff at a better price elsewhere. The grocery store usually only carries one or two of the varieties listed below, and they certainly don’t have any information to let you know what you are getting. Here are a few pointers to know what you are buying.
Maple Grading Cheat Sheet:
Grade A: Golden Color & Delicate Taste– early first harvest, the palest, mildest flavor, and color, formerly known as called fancy.
Grade A: Amber Color & Rich Flavor– richer in color, if you love the flavor of maple, this one is even fuller. It used to be called medium amber.
Grade A: Dark Color & Robust Flavor– maple lovers, who like it strong and deep like a forest, gather round this one that’s been called brown sugar-like, it’s the later harvest variety. Up until a few years ago, this was marketed as Grade B.
Grade A: Very Dark & Strong Flavor- molasses-like and stronger than anything and impossible to find commercially, its the sold almost exclusively to candy makers and food service for aftermarket products and used to be known as Grade C.
What I’m Buying and Why
9 times out of 10 the only offering you’ll find in a basic grocery store is Golden or Amber varieites- the lighter colored and flavored stuff. While those are nice, they can’t touch the full flavor in the third option, the one I run to with open arms.
“Robust” is what I want. Robust or what was once called grade B is the darkest and deepest flavor of maple syrup. Its cooking professionals use to get that bold and satisfying maple syrup. More flavor in less syrup. Your maple investment goes much further. It’s a wallop of cream compared to skimmed milk. And I’ve only seen it carried at specialty grocers that know its worth and mark up accordingly. The darker the syrup, the denser the nutrients, about 27% more, and almost 3X the amount of calcium and phosphorus as well as more magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron. The real take home is high antioxidants and a much lower glycemic index than sugar. While the flavor of the dark stuff is amazing, it’s also a much better choice for a natural, more nutrient-rich sweetener.
To Get It Cheaper Than Costco, Go Bigger
The best place to go isn’t the wholesale store, but wholesale online if you want the strong stuff.
I’m not shilling for anyone, but this is my favorite of every brand I’ve ever bought. I buy a few gallons every year and a half. Plus, if you’re into it they sell maple vinegar and it’s awesome stuff in dressings.
Hidden Maple offers occasional discounts and free shipping for larger orders, plus wholesale pricing on white label restaurant bottles for anyone buying in quantity. I’ve ordered from them many times, it’s a great product.
When I go bulk, ordering the large sizes the price comes out just under Costco’s price for the paler varieties, but the flavor laps the light stuff. I can probably never go back. And once you get a taste, you won’t either.
The Secret to Storing Maple Syrup
Never leave an open bottle on the shelf. Period. Maple syrup can mold and needs to be chilled. But, it doesn’t have to be in the fridge. Freeze it. The sugar content is so high it will not freeze solid, but remain pourable, but thickened. Keeping it this way makes it easier to pour without spilling. I simply refill my fridge dispenser or jar from the freezer bottle. And unopened, sealed bottles require no freezing at all- just like the shelf at the store.
Make Something Sweeter This Season
Sign up for the Fall 20/20 Recipe Collection where I show you how to use syrup sparingly as sweetener and flavor enhancer. Plus here’s a FREE one from the archives: Strawberry Muffins Two Ways (make them seasonal by swapping the berries for chopped pears or late season prune plums).
Do you use maple syrup outside of topping pancakes and waffles? Tell me in the comments what you are sweetening this season.
If you found this content useful, please share it! That’d be so sweet of you. 😉