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.
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.
• 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!
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.