Maple syrup is one of my favorite ingredients, both cook with and to use as a flavoring to add a finishing touch to pancakes, waffles and more. While fall is often associated with maple flavored treats (largely because maple goes so well with spices that are popular during the holidays), maple syrup is actually harvested towards the end of the winter and very early spring, when cold nights and warmer days create the perfect conditions for maple sap production. Real maple syrup tends to be expensive because it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup and because that sap is difficult to collect in the first place. But real maple syrup is worth every penny – particularly if you have a top-notch bottle of syrup in your kitchen. In a recent issue (Sept/Oct 2015), Cook’s Illustrated put a variety of supermarket maple syrups to the test to find out which stood out from the rest.
The results of the taste test were surprising: the test kitchen recommended every single brand they tested. All of the syrups they chose were Grade A Dark Amber syrups, which is the grade that is most widely available. The brands they tested included Uncle Luke’s, Highland Sugarworks Organic, Coombs Family Farms Organic, Anderson’s, Maple Grove, Maple Gold, Spring Tree and Camp. Many of these syrups are available online if they are not in stores in your area. Since maple syrups are blended from many trees grown in many areas – and they compared blended syrups with single-origin syrups and could not discern much of a difference – their advice is to buy the least expensive real maple syrup available.
Maple syrup grading is largely based on the color of the syrup and the color is impacted by the time of the season in which the syrup is harvested. Early season syrups – labeled Grade A or “extra fancy” tend to have a milder flavor than late season – labeled Grade B – syrups. The test kitchen found that syrups with the same grade tasted similar even if their colors varied, so I tend to buy Grade B whenever possible instead of Grade A, rather than relying on color to guide me in purchasing maple syrup. Regardless of color, it sounds like you can’t go wrong with any of the brands that the test kitchen sampled and will likely have good results with any real maple syrup you purchase.