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maple sugaring

If I had an addiction, hypothetically speaking of course, it would have something to do with pure, organic maple syrup.

That’s if I had an addiction, which I don’t. The intervention thing that happened last spring was entirely misguided. So was that fretful and unfortunate Dr. Oz interview I did about the pitfalls of excessive sugar consumption.

Okay, maybe I have a mild dependency. But that’s simply because I have a snobbish and discriminating taste for high-quality sweeteners. That’s totally different from an addiction. Contrary to what Dr. Oz said in that contentious exchange we had about drinking maple syrup, I do NOT need to join a 12-step recovery program.

And no, I don’t think it’s weird to have 3 Sugar Maple trees in my front yard with tap buckets attached (see above). And one Silver Maple. And two Red Maples. I gave up on the Box Elder; the sap wasn’t dark, rich or sweet enough.

Kind of like light beer verses dark lager. No comparison. Right, GDave?

Not that I would know.

Which brings me to the point of this post. GDave, my favorite Glaswegian cooking, blogging beer-maker (among other things), recently asked about the variations and grades of maple syrup. Stephanie, of the lovely blog, Gluten Free By Nature, was kind enough to respond briefly to his question. Thank you, Stephanie!

I’ve decided to take it a step further and do a detailed post on maple syrup, my absolute favorite sweetener. Have I mentioned that before?

According to the Cornell University Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program (yes, that’s for real), there are around 300 different flavor compounds in pure maple syrup. The complex flavor chemistry varies depending on the soil, the tree genetics, the weather, when the sap is collected and the processing technique. High-quality, organic, pure maple syrup is like fine wine. There are different varieties, tasting notes, aromas, finishes and aftertastes. That’s what I love about it.

The American Maple Syrup Producers Manual (also for real) states that chemical composition analyses show that all the different grades have similar health benefits. One grade really isn’t any better than another. But, compared to refined cane sugar, pure maple syrup is higher in mineral content, especially calcium, and also contains various antioxidants. Refined cane sugar contains nothing but calories.

Nonetheless, I will admit, it’s still sugar and should be consumed in moderation and as an occasional treat. But, as far as sweeteners go, maple syrup is at the top of my list, especially for baking. Not only does it impart wonderful flavor subtleties, it adds a moist texture to gluten-free baked goods. While I can’t claim to be eating local when it comes to maple syrup, Vermont (the largest producer of pure maple syrup in the US) is a lot closer to Colorado than Brazil, where most of our cane sugar comes from. Yes, I’m willing to compromise on the local thing once in awhile. Avocados, maple syrup, coffee beans, sockeye salmon and kiwis come to mind.

MapleSyrup

There are four basic classification systems when it comes to pure maple syrup (see above from left to right). US Grade A light amber (fancy), US Grade A medium amber, US Grade A dark amber and US Grade B. In each case, the grading system is primarily one based on transmission of light through a sample of the syrup, as you can see in the photo above. The differences have to do with various factors, but when the sap is collected is the major one. The richness and sugar content of the sap is higher in late winter.

The Vermont Maple Foundation states that the best grade of maple syrup is the one you like the most. I like Grade B – the rich, dark, thick stuff. Plus, it’s often less expensive. Here’s some basic information to help you determine which choice might be best, and why.

Grade A Light Amber (fancy)
• Delicate, mild maple bouquet (wine snob talk). Excellent drizzled on ice cream.

Grade A Medium Amber
• Pronounced characteristic maple bouquet. Good pancake and all-around table syrup.

Grade A Dark Amber
• Heartier and more robust maple bouquet. A bit richer, but another good all-around choice.

Grade B
• Darkest color and strongest maple flavor. This is the best grade to cook and bake with as the rich flavor isn’t overwhelmed by the other ingredients in your recipe. Wonderful on hot cereals.

One final thought (as bossy as it may be) – do not use FAKE maple syrup! Blech, eeww and ick! It’s usually made with sugar and chemical thickeners. Avoid at all costs.

For more about maple syrup, pancakes, cowboys, books and music, check out this post. It’s short, I promise.

Go forth and celebrate maple syrup snobbery!
Melissa
P.S. I found out after publishing this post that I had a maple syrup expert right here within my grasp. Sheila, my friend and wonderful CSA contact at Grant Family Farms, grew up on a farm that has produced award-winning maple syrup since 1796. Wow, that means Sheila has maple syrup in her blood. No wonder she’s such a sweetie (I couldn’t resist). For more information and facts about maple syrup, check Sheila’s family website, Endless Mts. Cabin Maple Syrup.

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43 Responses to “maple syrup snob”

  1. Peter says:

    Hey hey it’s been awhile but I had to chime in on this blog. Growing up in New England one has to enjoy pure Maple, usually from Vermont, or else you get banished to Detroit or some other dismal enclave. So yes I have a mild addiction, ok, I have a huge addiction to the real stuff. Last year my wife Jenn filled my Christmas stocking with a maple sampler of all the maple grades. My heart be still, this woman knows me too well.

    Enjoyed with some locally cured Amish bacon and Bob’s redmill Cornmeal Mountain Pancakes (substituting the whole wheat pastry flour for your favorite gluten free all purpose flour of course). Recipe found on the 2lb package of Bob’s sea salt and should be on his website.

    Cheers Melissa!

  2. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    That seals it, the Kitchen must have it’s own Maple trees in the yard with syrup on tap. GDave will love the convenience even if it’s raining (what do traditional syrup gatherers wear I wonder? Whatever it takes, we’ll be sure to kit him out in all weather style :) ). Just as long as there’s a flagon of maple syrup on the side for lunch service… and freshly harvested coconuts (I haven’t mentioned that part yet, don’t want to alarm the boy before opening day :) )

    Cid

  3. Okay, I’m not totally sure in which parts of this post you’re pulling my leg … the Dr. Oz interview, the trees in yard with buckets attached (then you go on to say you use VT syrup). Anyway, this is a great post and funny! I love the photo of the different grades of maple syrup. I like the Grade B better than the fancy stuff myself. I like to taste it! And, I’ve read that Grade B has more nutrients–is that true? Last, there oughta be a law against fake maple syrup (and lots of other fake stuff!).

    Happy Sunday! Now I’m wishing I’d planned a REAL breakfast that included maple syrup.

    Thanks, Melissa!

    Shirley

  4. Melissa says:

    Peter,

    Welcome back! We’ve missed your fun-loving (but informative) comments. Wow, your wife is one wise woman!

    Locally cured Amish bacon sounds like it would be perfect nestled in next to some buckwheat pancakes, with maple syrup drifting into the bacon. Yum!

    Bob’s sea salt? I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    This business of ours is taking off, isn’t it!? So many wonderful ideas, where do we even begin?

    I suppose with our clothing. We do want to stand out, flowingly so. Aside from cheese and deli items, you’re in charge of Asian, Tribal and Ethnic textiles. Antique fabrics, tapestries and scarves. GDave can tap the trees and I’ll make the gluten-free baked goods. Miles can oversee the real cooking.

    We’ll start with a reservation at Table #5.

    Cheers!
    Melissa

  6. Melissa says:

    Shirley,

    I wrote this at 4 AM, what do you expect?!

    :-)

    You should know by now that some of what I say will be a bit far-fetched. But you can count on me for good nutrition information and also honest self exposure. The Dr. Oz thing is a fabrication of my rich imagination, but my “addiction” to maple syrup is no joke. That is my comfort food. Pancakes, French toast and cornbread — all floating in maple syrup. Ugh, then I slip into that sugar coma and regret every bite. Until next time.

    I do know my weaknesses and I make every attempt to be reasonable with my “treats” though. My periodic cleanses remind me how good I feel when I totally eliminate sugar from my diet.

    Hey, we’re all in this together. Let’s keep it real!

    xo

  7. Melissa says:

    Oh, Shirley — I’ve always thought the darker the syrup, the higher the nutrient content as well, but I couldn’t find any studies to substantiate that. In fact, the research I found suggested there wasn’t much difference other than some very minor nutrient variations depending on the soil and the tree genetics, but none indicating a pattern with nutrients and grades.

  8. Martha Russell says:

    Melissa,

    Love this post about maple syrup! Have not eaten store bought syrup in years!!! My cousins in Vermont have maple trees and make about 1100 to 1500 gallons of syrup each season. Somehow or other I always manage to get some down here in North Carolina
    Martha

  9. Esther says:

    mmmm…I love this stuff. My husband thinks I’m crazy for paying the price, but I can’t get over how tasty it is! Thanks for your support :-)

  10. Maple syrup has always made me feel sick. I’m not sure why. We always bought the real organic kind as well. My mom loves maple syrup though and she does fine with it.

  11. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Table No. 5 might be hard work to begin with but I’m certain he’ll be willing if it’s on the house :) Plus he’ll be honest with us which will undoubtedly mean heaping praise upon the hard working kitchen staff….. and it’s two front of house eccentrically dressed hostesses. The problem might be getting rid of him after that ….. enter Miles, our over-seer, chef and bouncer extraordinaire. He’ll be dealing with ‘difficult’ customers… no good relying on GD, he’ll be up a tree gathering fresh produce (although it does occur to me that the coconuts could come in useful as a deterrent when aimed correctly :) ). There used to be a restaurant in town here called the Flying Pizza run by some very flamboyant Italians…. a gimmick most definitely but we shouldn’t ignore the crowd pleasing tactics of our rivals in these cash strapped times. I ought to warn you now that my aim is famously bad so the pumpkin custards will be safely earthed on our new magnetic trays (that ought to comfort our more nervous sensitive customers :) )

    Cid

    p.s. Melissa I do love your posts, they are so full of interesting facts and so entertainingly written that I could read them all day.

  12. stephanie says:

    wow – that’s fantastic. That was the quickest turn-around ever. One day you’re inspired -the next day you’re posting about maple syrup at 4am. Now, that’s true love.

    I feel for GDave. I am not sure what I would do without access to “real” maple syrup. Funny enough, friends of ours from the UK just came to visit and stocked up on the good stuff. In fact, I am sure they exceeded their luggage allowance on the trip home.

    As a New Hampshire native, I recommend visiting any of the maple sugar farms in Vermont or New Hampshire. It’s pretty cool. They often have a restaurant on site, where you can sit, take in the scenery and drink all the maple syrup you like. They give tours of how maple syrup is made. And in winter, they have sleigh rides…dashing through the snow, a piping hot mug of syrup keeping you warm…does it get any better than that?

    Thanks for the post.
    have a great week, stephanie

    *I, like Shirley, did read somewhere about the higher nutrient content for the Grade B. But, I cannot recall the source.

  13. Sheila says:

    Great post, Melissa! I grew up on a farm in PA where our family has been producing pure maple syrup for more than 100 years… and still going strong. I never knew what faux maple syrup tasted like until a sleep over with friends in grade school. They told me the stuff they served that morning for breakfast was maple syrup and I said, “No it isn’t.” My family’s story and award winning maple syrup can be found at http://www.endlessmtscabin.com Thanks Melissa!

  14. Melissa says:

    Martha,

    Thanks for the comments. Pure maple syrup is such a wonderful indulgence and a great addition to gluten-free baking. Wow, you are so lucky to get it right from the source! That’s a lot of maple syrup your cousins put out each year! I’m impressed (and envious).

  15. Melissa says:

    Esther,

    There are some things that merit paying the higher price. You get what you pay for with this — I’d rather skimp somewhere else and buy real, pure, organic maple syrup. It’s worth it in my mind!

  16. Melissa says:

    Heather,

    Oh my gosh, my heart goes out to you! Yikes, you poor girl! Can you tolerate honey or is it all sweeteners?

  17. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Thank you for your fun-loving and humorous spirit. I do adore your “take” on life and do plan to someday meet up with you for dinner somewhere. We should probably meet at Miles’ establishment and possibly even move in on Table #5. We’ll bring Anne with us, plates and all. That way the brothers can’t refuse to let us join the party. How could they?

    :-)

    Flying Pizza sounds like a rollicking restaurant! “Used” to be? That’s too bad. In times like this, we want flamboyant people to entertain us! And Italians can be flamboyant, that’s for sure.

    Thanks Cid. I appreciate your kind words!

  18. Melissa says:

    Stephanie,

    I’m so glad you chimed in on that last post of mine. You really added to the “conversation” and I have a tendency to get busy and forget which are some of my favorite blogs. Yours is one of them, but I get caught up in “real” life and don’t realize that I’ve missed certain blogs. When someone comments, then I remember!! Yea!

    Being from New England, you have first-hand knowledge of how wonderful the real stuff is. I’ve seen maple syrup collecting in action in Vermont and have even had sap beer before. :-) I really do like using maple syrup in my baking and cooking and although I can’t consider New England “local” I think it’s important to support people who are producing such high-quality products. As far as “local” goes, sometimes that includes anywhere in the good old USA!

    Thanks so much for your valuable contribution to this post! I also thought the darker the color, the higher the nutrient content, but I didn’t find that to be true. But, the variations in flavor and the overall nutrient content makes it a much better sweetener choice in my mind than most others.

    Plus, it just tastes SO good!

  19. Melissa says:

    SHEILA!!

    Oh my gosh, I can’t believe your family’s story and website. Thank you for the tip-off! And I love the bit about you setting things straight at the sleep over! Good for you.

    :-)

    To everyone else — Sheila is one of the CSA coordinators at Grant Family Farms!

    Now, I’m not surprised to find out you grew up on a farm! You’re a farm-girl at heart and working for, and advocating, farm-fresh produce makes total sense!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. And by the way, that Maple Cream stuff your family makes looks divine! Wow, that would make for good ginger-bread cookie frosting, wouldn’t it?!

    Okay, I’m going to go back and edit my blog post to add in your family story — at least link to it from the post. Wish I had known I had the expert right here in Colorado! I would have called upon you to help me with the post.

    Peace, love, veggies and pure maple syrup!
    Melissa

  20. greedydave says:

    Melissa,

    You’ve gone to so much trouble for this post and it really shows, most excellent. The maple syrup line-up and the following descriptions hit the nail on the head for what I was hoping to learn about and I’d be really interested to see what’s available to us ‘Weegies.’ (…ask Tev) I’d like to become a maple syrup snob too, maybe I’ll even try it with bacon!
    Also, I don’t think it’s at all weird to have tapped maple trees in your front yard. Quite the opposite, it may be the coolest thing I’ve ever heard! (and a stunning photograph to boot)

    Absolutely marvellous post, Melissa!

    GDave

  21. Miles says:

    Melissa,
    What a post! I thought you were too busy for this? Maple syrup is one of those foodstuffs I will always associate with America. Very informative and a great photo.

    Miles

  22. What a cleverly composed post! I agree. Don’t ever use fake maple syrup. Life is too short to not enjoy the good stuff. My personal favorite is Grade B. I like the deeper flavor and darker color.

  23. Thanks so much for your nice comment :)

    This post is so funny to see… I just sat down and wrote a maple syrup post the other day (with similar info) but decided not to post it yet! I spent some time in Vermont last summer & loved touring a real live maple farm. Came away with all kinds of *real* maple syrup products, including syrups. Have you ever tried Maple Sugar? Good stuff.

  24. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    It may not be maple syrup but I’ve been making my annual batch of rose hip syrup this afternoon. A messy affair and not without peril when tackling the thorny wild rose, but worth the effort. Perhaps I’ve left it a bit late but the hedgerows around here are rather bare except for autumn leaves and hawthorn berries. Nevertheless, I now find myself wondering if Maples will grow in deepest Lincolnshire (mine will have to come with designer tap and bucket already in place :) )

    Here’s to scrumptious syrups, buckets and leather gauntlets (if only Ray Mears could see me now :) ).

    Cid

  25. Melissa says:

    GDave,

    Actually, everyone — I’m sitting at DIA airport awaiting a flight to Pennsylvania. It’s early in the morning and snowing hard. DIA has free wireless. Yeah!

    I do have maple trees, but I have to admit to fibbing about having sap buckets attached.

    When I come to the UK for dinner with all of you, I’ll be carting maple syrup, hazelnut flour, teff grain and LEVIS.

    :-)

    Here’s to you, GDave!

  26. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Well, I wish I had more time to respond, but I’m about to board a plane for the east coast. Might have to change my plans and head over the pond for some of that rose hip syrup. Wow, you are certainly a woman with many talents! I’m sure if he knew you, Ray Mears would be totally smitten!

  27. Melissa says:

    Miles,

    Thanks for the comment and the kind words. Unfortunately this is another one of those awesome photos that I did not take. But thank you for the compliment anyway!

    :-)

  28. Melissa says:

    Lori,

    We must be on the same syrupy wavelength! I have also spent some time in Vermont and it’s so much fun to see sapping (is that a word?) in action.

  29. Melissa says:

    Susan,

    Thank you sooo much for the nice sentiments! I appreciate it, especially coming from a wonderful blogger like you!

  30. stephanie says:

    melissa
    thanks so much for the kind words. I sure do appreciate it.
    hope you have a wonderful time in PA. Planning a visit to Martha’s maple syrup farm ?

  31. Becky says:

    Hi Melissa! I was wondering your thoughts on Grade C. In a Natural Chef class, a teacher recommended it if we could find it. I did a little research and it seems to be a “commercial only” item.

    Thank you!!

  32. Linda says:

    My dad has made maple syrup for years so we have had an endless free supply. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to do it any more.

  33. Melissa says:

    Stephanie,

    No time to visit anyplace. I’ve been in conference rooms all day. Worth it though as I love what I’m doing!

    :-)

  34. Melissa says:

    Becky,

    I’ve never used grade C, unless that was the precursor to the sap beer I’ve tasted! I always opt for Grade B as that’s as rich a syrup as I’ve found. Let me know if you find otherwise.

  35. Melissa says:

    Linda,

    Thanks for your comment and you are a lucky girl, indeed! Having said that, I hope your dad’s decision isn’t a health-related one and I hope he is okay. I do hate to see these traditions go by the wayside. Is someone taking over for him?

  36. Kay says:

    You must be psychic! I was just shopping for maple taps on eBay! Please be my maple syrup mentor!!! I have one huge maple in my front yard. I’ve scoured the woods, but no trees there have the recommended 10″ diameter. So I’ll tap my one tree and hope for lots of sap. Even if I only get a thimble full of syrup, I think it will be worth it.

    In the meantime, I’m buying the darkest grade B at the farmers market.

    I also LOVE to use a little maple sugar in my apple crisp. While searching the web for a good price on maple sugar, I ran across maple cream. It looks like maple butter, but the only ingredient is maple syrup. I could eat it with a spoon instead of drinking it out of the bottle! Haha! I’ll definitely order some for me and some for gifts.

    Hope you’re enjoying Fall!

    P.S. Not much time for writing these days, but I started a little photo blog that’s just for fun. Check out my silly pix at http://breakfastshouldbejoyful.blogspot.com. All the breakfasts pictured are gluten free, of course.

  37. Kristine says:

    Hey Melissa!!! Love the blog. Had to comment on this because my boyfriend is a HUGE maple syrup snob. It made me giggle when I came across this. Who knew there were so many different kinds. Definitely forwarding this to him.

    <3 Your Nordic Rep :)

  38. Melissa says:

    Kay,

    Weelll, not that I know of, but that is really weird! You just blow me away with your creative energy. You’re like a girl version of MacGuyver or something!

    I really don’t know much about tapping maple trees although I’ve seen the process in action in Vermont. It’s such a wonderful tradition dating way back. I love that kind of thing. I bring little containers of maple sugar on backpacking trips. I also put some in my homemade hot cereal mixes for camping. You can even make your own maple syrup out of the sugar crystals and have pancakes with maple syrup on the trail. Maple cream looks divine — I must get some. I’ll go check out your photo blog right now. Thanks for tipping me off!

    Hope all’s well with all your chickens!

  39. Melissa says:

    Kristine,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! Seriously, I appreciate it. You’re boyfriend is a very smart snob if he likes the high-end stuff. There’s absolutely no comparison!

    By the way, since you’re the EFA specialist, I have an omega-3 post you might find entertaining.

    :-)

    http://www.glutenfreeforgood.com/blog/?p=208

  40. art gilman says:

    People say you exaggerate about “drinking” maple syrup, but it’s the truth. There is nothing better than a shotglass of warm syrup straight from the evaporator (well, after it has cooled down from the 234 degrees it reaches in the making).. and the best use is not in cooking or on pancakes, or even on vanilla ice cream, but just straight, in a little sauce dish.. all the “old timer’s” had their syrup this way – that is, when they made syrup instead of sugar. A friend of mine, who used to serve on the “Maple Board” here in Vermont, tells me he would get pretty woozy after visiting several sugarhouses in one day, and having a quarter of a cup or so at a tasting at each one..

    Wow -less than four months until some fresh new syrup is made – can’t wait. My brother has a sugar orchard and makes 400 gallons or so each spring.

    I’m one of his best customers….

    • Melissa says:

      Art – sap beer! You’re talking about sap beer. Yes, it does make one a bit woozy. I haven’t had any for many years, but I do remember tasting it in Vermont one year. Or, maybe it was some sort of sap liquor. Whatever it was, it was delicious! You’re lucky that you have a brother who makes maple syrup. Where and how does he sell it?

  41. Melissa,

    I had to share. I came across this interesting article tweeted today about maple syrup (written by a discriminating fellow maple syrup snob).

    http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2009/12/maple-grade-b-syrup-a-b-cs-of-it.html

  42. Really, all the grades are delicious and which is the best is a personal preference. I actually do prefer grade a dark amber maple syrup more than grade B. It is still dark and maple-y tasting but doesn’t have such a musty maple taste to it.

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