Americans spend upwards of $400 million dollars a year on pancake syrup and maple syrup while shopping in supermarkets, and consumer much more than that when you take into account that people are dousing their pancakes, french toast and waffles in syrup when dining in restaurants. The vast majority of that money is spend on pancake syrup, not maple syrup, which is corn syrup that flavored with things that make it taste similar to real maple syrup, a natural syrup made by boiling the sap from a maple tree. Maple syrup generally has a more intense, complex flavor than pancake syrup, but it is also quite a bit more expensive, which could explain why so many shoppers reach for products like Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima instead of real maple syrup. The Cook’s Country test kitchen held a taste test (link) to compare pancake syrup to maple syrup to see which syrup came out on top.
The taste test included five maple syrups and five popular pancake syrups. They tasted them on waffles and in a pie recipe, since maple syrup is called for in many recipes, both sweet and savory. The maple syrup beat the pancake syrup hands-down in all of the tests. Taste tested reported that the pancake syrups did not taste like maple, and overpowering butterscotch, caramel and artificial butter flavors dominated the “candylike” syrups. Tasters also did not care for the overly thick texture of the pancake syrups. The maple syrups came out ahead, but there were a wide range of flavors in the brands tested, and testers preferred syrups that had a clear balance of sweetness and maple flavor in them.
The three winning syrups were Maple Grove Farms Pure Maple Syrup Grade A Dark Amber (Product of U.S. and Canada), Highland Sugarworks Grade B Cooking Maple (Product of Vermont) and Camp Maple Syrup Grade A Dark Amber (Product of Canada), in that order. Two other maples were “recommended with reservations”: Spring Tree Pure Maple Syrup Grade A Dark Amber, for being too thin and too mild, and Maple Gold Syrup Grade A Dark Amber, for being to thin and too sweet. None of the pancake syrups – Kellogg’s Eggo Original Syrup (“the best of the worst”), Aunt Jemima Original Syrup, Mrs. Butterworth’s Original Syrup, Log Cabin Pancake Syrup and Hungry Jack Original Syrup – were recommended.
For maple syrup lovers, it is worth noting that the soil, weather, and growing conditions of maple trees, as well as the exact production of the syrup, can really influence the flavor of real maple syrup and there are many brands out there that were not included in the test. And, of course, individual tastes vary (For instance, I always prefer dark maple syrups over light “Grade A” or “Grade AA” ones). It is worth trying a few to find your favorite, especially if you can find some that you like that are sold in larger quantities at reasonable prices for baking, such as Trader Joe’s maple syrup and the winning Maple Groves Farm syrup.