Maple Syrup: Your Most Pressing Questions, Answered

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Do you only break out the maple syrup for pancake Sundays? Then you’re missing out on the full potential of this liquid gold. A natural sweetener with depth and complexity, maple syrup goes with way more than breakfast. Here we present a collection of tips, techniques, and trivia that will help you pick out a bottle and use it for all it’s worth. (And if you, like us, were ever wondering why so many bottles have a seemingly useless, teeny tiny handle, well—read on to know why.)

How do I pick the right syrup?

We strongly recommend 100 percent maple syrup. Syrup has a terroir, just like wine, coffee, and chocolate. Not only do the two sugar maple cultivars produce different-tasting syrup, but the syrup is dependent on the air, water, and soil, varying greatly region to region and season to season. Taste syrups from different regions to find out what you like best.

Why is it so pricey?

Syrup is so expensive because it takes 40 gallons (!) of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Sugaring season runs for just about two months, from early February to late March, in a very small region of the world, predominantly in the Northeastern United States and Canada, which means the supply is limited. But don’t worry: Bottles are available year-round.

Where should I keep it?

To protect against fermentation and molding, keep open bottles in the fridge for up to a year. For indefinite storage, stow syrup in the freezer (it’s too sugary to solidify).

crown-maple-syrup-flight

Photo by Winnie Au

Flights of maple syrup.

What do all the grades mean?

Formerly divided into grades A, B, and C, the bottles at the store today are all Grade A, with USDA descriptors that clearly spell out the hue and intensity. Confused? Just remember: Darker syrup means bolder flavor. Here’s a breakdown.

Golden color, delicate taste: Fruity and subtle, it’s easily overshadowed but makes the best substitute for white sugar when baking.

Amber color, rich taste: Popular for all-around use, it’s the ideal table syrup for pancakes and French toast.

Dark color, robust taste: Bold in flavor, it holds its own in savory dishes like braises and in whiskey cocktails.

Very dark color, strong taste: With the most powerful maple flavor, it delivers the biggest bang for your buck—use sparingly!

Uh, what’s pancake syrup?

Pancake syrup is corn syrup with artificial flavor and color, whereas maple syrup is 100 percent boiled maple sap with 33 to 35 percent water.

Can I replace sugar with maple syrup?

To substitute maple syrup for sugar in a recipe, follow these rules from Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang. In general, one cup of syrup is equal to one cup of sugar. But decrease the amount of liquid by 3 Tbsp. for each cup of syrup used. If baking, reduce your oven temp by 25° to prevent burning (since syrup caramelizes faster than sugar). Unless your recipe already calls for an acidic ingredient like buttermilk or sour cream, add 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda with the syrup. And experiment at your own risk!

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Photo by Alex Lau, food styling by Chris Morocco, prop styling by Emily Eisen

Maple syrup makes a good marinade for anything from chicken to tofu.

Is it only for drizzling?

Nope! Try adding a touch of maple syrup to savory foods; its earthy caramel flavor complements bitter, spicy, and salty notes. We like adding it to barbecue sauce, sautéed bitter greens, squash soup, marinades, and mustard vinaigrette.

What else can I do with it?

Make a crunchy maple topping for yogurt or oatmeal: Toss 1 cup toasted seeds or nuts + 3 Tbsp. maple syrup + 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350° for 15–20 minutes. Let cool, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

glazed carrots 1

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Dana Bonagura

These guys are Maple-Roasted Carrots.

Any other ideas?

Dress up any roasted vegetable with an easy maple glaze: Whisk together 2 Tbsp. each maple syrup, unseasoned rice vinegar, and soy sauce, and 1⁄2 tsp. red pepper flakes. Season with salt. Drizzle over vegetables and toss to coat in the last 5–10 minutes of roasting.

Use it to sweeten switchel, a refreshing drink made with apple cider vinegar and fresh ginger.

Or use maple syrup to add a glaze-y shellac to pork chops, salmon, bacon, chicken, tofu, carrots, or brussels sprouts.

hidden springs maple syrup

Photo by Chelsea Kyle

To have on hand at all times.

Do you have a favorite brand?

Hidden Springs Amber Rich Organic Maple Syrup, with its toasty flavor, is our favorite for everyday use.

Buy it: $8 for a half pint at springsmaple.com.

Okay, but what’s up with that little handle?

It harks back to times of yore, when syrup was collected in big earthenware vessels on which handles were critical. Today, it’s just a miniaturized sign to us consumers that what we’re getting is a real deal. This sort of design that contains just-for-show characteristics of the original is called a “skeuomorph.” (Use that on your next crossword!)

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These Maple Syrup Glazed Carrots Are Always on Our Holiday Menu

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It all started with Barbie. Not the plastic one, but Andy Baraghani’s cousin’s girlfriend who none of us know. Though in a way, all of us know her: the brave Thanksgiving newcomer. Over two decades ago, Barbie showed up to Christmas dinner with these shimmering, syrupy sweet, roasted-to-smithereens carrots that entranced the Baraghani family. And while some loves fade, others only strengthen. Which is why after the breakup, Barbie’s carrots remained on the Christmas menu. A part of the family.

“Honestly she did sort of look like a Barbie. I was a closeted six-year-old and I was obsessed with her,” Andy told me. “Plus, that was the year the Barbie girl song came out.” That’s all the historical context you need, folks.

Here’s the recipe context you need: The carrots got tossed with cold pats of butter, heaps of sugar, drowned in maple syrup, and then they steam in the oven for HOURS. When served, the carrots would fall apart. In some ways this was good, for family members with sensitive teeth, but in other ways it wasn’t perfect: the carrots would never take on that thick, glazy, caramel sauce.

So when Andy was telling us about this dish, we knew he had to develop it for Bon Appétit, to honor Barbie, wherever she is now. This wasn’t the time to go full Andy—adding nuts, chiles, fistfuls of herbs, various zests—but he could make the recipe technically better, and more balanced in flavor. Ultimately, it needed to be a simple roasted carrot dish, unapologetically sweet, primally satisfying. The kind of Thanksgiving side that sticks around longer than some relationships.

Andy’s recipe goes like this: Scrub some carrots, trim their hats, chop them into cool asymmetrical chunks or leave them artfully whole, but DEFINITELY leave them unpeeled (purely aesthetic decision). Toss them in a foil-lined baking sheet with brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, and red pepper—that little bit of heat helps tone down the extreme sweetness. Instead of a long, slow roast, bake them at 400° for around an hour—tossing every 20 minutes. Tossing the carrots in the sugar-butter mixture will give them that glazed sheen that makes them irresistible. A sprinkling of flaky salt adds a bit of crunch and an Andy touch. If only Barbie knew.

Get the recipe:

glazed-carrots-1.jpg

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