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Monday, September 20, 2004

Maple Syrup Grades

Recently, I used maple syrup in the Pecan Pie recipies. Most of us are familiar with the taste of maple syrup (from eating pancakes), but what is maple syrup and what do the grades mean?

What is Maple Syrup?
Maple syrup is made by reducing the clear sap from maple trees into a high concentration sugar suspended in water. When the maple sap is harvested, it is a watery liquid (not thick, sticky, and viscous like other saps we are familiar with). This sap mostly water, about two percent sugar (with some impurities). The sap is then boiled until much of the water has evaporated. During the boiling, impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off (like making a stock). Once enough water has evaporated so that the sugar content exceeds 67%, the sweet liquid is considered maple syrup. The lightness of color and strength of flavor is dependent mainly upon when the maple syrup was harvested and the weather and growing conditions of the maple trees for that year. Typically, lighter syrups are harvested earlier in the season.

Maple Syrup Grade
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assigns grades to the maple syrup sold in the the U.S. These grades are: Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. The grading of syrup sold in the United States is voluntary (like USDA Beef Grading).

Grade A Light Amber (or Fancy) is very light in color and has a faint, delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. Many people use this grade for serving on pancakes. It is also widely used for making maple candies.

Grade A Medium Amber is darker and has an easily discernable maple flavor. I like using this grade for serving on pancakes and waffles. I also use it for baking since it has a stronger flavor than Light Amber.

Grade A Dark Amber is very dark and has a strong maple flavor. Some people like the stronger flavor and use it as a table syrup, but this grade is mostly used for cooking and baking.

Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, extremely dark in color and has an extremely strong maple taste as well as hints of caramel. Because of its strong flavor, this s predominantly used in baked goods.

Maple syrup should be refrigerated to ensure freshness (even if the bottle hasn't been opened). You can also freeze maple syrup to extend its life indefinitely. If the syrup is refrigerated in glass containers, then the syrup will maintain quality for a year. Plastic bottles are a little porous, so refrigerator shelf life is usually around three to four months. If you need to store syrup purchased in plastic bottles for longer term storage, pour it into a glass bottle or jar and refrigerate.

Use as a sugar substitute
In general, maple syrup can be substituted for granular sugar in baked goods by following these rules of thumb:
For each cup of granulated sugar, use 1-1/2 cup of maple syrup.
Reduce other liquids in the recipe by about one-half.
Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of maple syrup.
Decrease oven temperature by 25°F.

Pancake syrups
Most syrups sold as pancake syrups are not maple syrup. These syrups are made of either cane sugar or corn syrup and contain a few percent of maple syrup for flavoring. Real maple syrup has a more robust flavor and (as my wife says) tastes less man-made.

posted by Michael Chu @ 9/20/2004 05:07:47 PM   20 comments
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At 6:05 PM, Luís Bonifácio said...

Great and original Blog

Greetings from a Portuguese Engineer

At 8:45 PM, Soldering Gunslinger said...

Greetings from an Arizona Engineer.

Turpentine is also tapped from trees, however it is distilled, not reduced. One must be certain to ascertain the variety of tree being tapped before one should sample the sap. Sugar Maple, Ok. Conifer Not OK. :-D

I remain,

The Old Soldering Gunslinger

At 9:34 PM, Anonymous said...

Wow, he actually SHUT UP about all the hits he was getting, and is actually talking about cooking? Incredible.

Of course, he's posting meat recipies, which is pretty bad. Meat is murder. This is simple common sense.

At 10:39 PM, Chris said...


What is that stench?

Oh, yes... it is just a troll, envious of other people's success.

For what it is worth, I'm quite enjoying this site. Oh, and yes, I eat meat. Lots of it. Enjoy it immensely.

More meat dishes! :D

At 12:10 AM, fanboy said...

To "the troll":

Technically speaking, the last entry he mentioned his recent increase in traffic was LAST Monday. If you don't appreciate Michael's hard work and success, then simply DON'T COME. I highly doubt anyone is forcing you to read this blog. I suggest you go find an unsuccessful vegan recipe blog to satisfy your needs and stop posting your negative remarks here.

Then again, any form of vegetation is considered a living organism as well, for shame! You'd better stop eating these as well, lest you become a "murderer" like the rest of us!

To Michael:

In all seriousness, this is a great blog and the recipe charts are simply amazing, so simple and compact yet so intuitive and complete. It really boggles my mind that such a superior format has not been more widely adopted! Keep up the good work!

Now we engineers can show our cooking prowess too!

- Greetings from a Canadian engineer. ;)

At 7:01 AM, cynicalb said...

I have kept maple syrup, packed in vacuum sealed bottles, for well over a year with no discernable loss of flavor. I have found medium amber to be the most flavorful; light amber does not have enough flavor. Also, the darker the grade, the lower the price. Although it is expensive in the store, I recommend going to the source to buy it. Currently in Wisconsin, a gallon of maple syrup, bought from a producing farm, goes for $26-$30 per gallon - much more reasonable than the $6-$8 a oint in the store.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous said...

Another "difference" between types of maple syrup is whether it is evaporated or boiled down. The old way was to boil down the sap to the syrup over a outdoor open fire, but most modern farms use an evaporator, as the old way is slow and expensive. However, most Canadians will tell you that the old-way boiled down syrup is the best, and if you can still get it at a market it is a lot more expensive, but well worth the cost. I had a 2 litre jug of boiled down maple syrup a few years ago, and have not been able to get anything even close to it it in flavor or consistency since!

At 1:46 PM, Ben said...

Once you have REAL maple syrup... you can't go back to the store stuff.

At 1:52 PM, Alredhead said...

Mr. Cho,

I also enjoy your site...I've posted a comment or two...and think you shouldn't pay that not-so-nice-guy any mind.

Thank you for the useful info.


At 3:31 PM, Marky said...

Hey, those cooking charts are pretty cool indeed. I must point out though how geeky we are (present company included) for our excitement over things like cooking charts. I admit it, I embrace it, gotta love it. Speaking of charts, feel free to check out my Exam Time Procrastination Flowchart from my student days not so long ago for shits and giggles.

Btw, Michael, did we go to school together (Markella here)? Otherwise you're the 3rd Michael Chu I know/hear of.

Greetings from another Canadian engineer!

At 4:06 PM, meganmanwich said...

Greetings from a Canadian Bio/CompSci student :P

Love the site. Especially the meat.

What should really be mentioned here is a traditional French Canadian treat called cabane a sucre (no idea what us anglos would call it). It entails taking high quality syrup (typically medium amber), pouring it onto fresh snow and twirling the syrup around a stick as it solidifies (think cotton candy but gooey). This makes a tasty maple popsicle for those lovely winter days.

At 4:30 PM, Rudolf said...

Great stuff. Maybe you compare different instant pancake mixes and a few recipes for making awesome pancakes. I had some frozen pancakes that you pop in the microwave and they were the best, it's too bad I had to use maple syrup from the states (I live in Canada, eh?). This is gonna help me enjoy pancakes even more, thanks :D

At 5:30 PM, Michael Chu said...

re: testing pancake mixes

If someone will mail me an assortment of pancake mixes, I'll do the test... unfortunately, I don't have funds set aside right now to buy a bunch of the same stuff and test it out - although I hope to be able to do that in the future. I'd love to try out different brands or manufacturers and figure out what makes something "good" or "bad".

At 6:46 PM, The Computer Nut said...

Nice blog you have here. I posted a link to it on my blog. Hope the best for your blog.

At 12:43 AM, Ben FrantzDale said...

Growing up we always had real grade B on our pancakes, so that's what I'm used to. Can someone who preffers grade A explain why? Is there complexity that I've just overlooked?

At 3:47 AM, Paul V said...

You should try pecan pie made with that's heaven!

At 8:41 PM, Connie said...

Re: Cabane a sucre

The English translation is "sugar shack"; that is, it is the place in which the maple sap is collected and processed into maple syrup. Pouring the hot syrup onto the snow and gathering it up onto a stick as it cools and hardens to make a sweet treat is one of the things they do at a cabane a sucre. Another tradition is sitting with many other people at long tables and eating foods such as pancakes, baked beans, sausages, bacon, eggs and the like, and smothering them all with newly made maple syrup. All done in the early spring when the sap is flowing.

Is it time for breakfast yet?

At 9:18 AM, Jeffrey said...

Hey - great Blog! "Real" maple syrup is distinguishable from the fake or even 'cut' stuff by one simple method - 100% real (Canadian) maple syrup will remain fluid when frozen in the freezer. The fake or 'cut' syrup will freeze solid like a block of ice. We have two farming families providing us with real (boiled) maple syrup each year and the taste is fantastic. Works great in pie and tart recipies.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous said...

I was reading a book on "Country Things" and the Vermont old timer there said that New Yorkers could be counted upon to purchase Grade B syrup, as the Fancy grade was too light-colored to be considered real maple syrup.

He also mentions birch beer and maple sap beer. Said sap beer was foul stuff. Maybe that's why the oldtime song goes
"Wanta get your eye knocked out, wanta get your fill,
Wanta get your head cut off just go up Sugar Hill!"

At 10:35 AM, Patrick said...

Great site, love it.

I grew up on a farm in wisconsin and we made our own maple syrup every spring. We just canned it in glass jars and kept it in the basement. It stayed good for years that way without any noticable difference to taste. Depending on how well the sap ran that year you could run out, so we always kept reserves.

Also, growing up on the farm we raised, befriended, and then killed, butchered and ate our food. Hell, I think this country (USA) needs a restaurant where you can pick out your own cow, watch it butchered and cook it while it's still twitching like they do with lobsters. Maybe in Texas.


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