I first went on a field trip to a farm in 3rdgrade and after bringing some back for my family to try, we haven’t touched the other stuff since. But what makes maple syrup so special and how is it different than the cheaper syrups you find in the store?
Maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees. If you’ve ever seen an image of a pail hanging from a nail in the side of a tree, then you’ve seen the early days of maple syrup harvesting. Today, we have more sophisticated systems, but the spirit is the same: tap into a tree and let the sap flow out into a container. Usually there are a series of hoses connected to a main sap collection barrel that is then brought to their sugar house.
The sap however, is not particularly sweet as it comes out of the tree. In the sugar house farmers boil down the sap to a sort of concentrate. This concentrate is what we know as maple syrup, and it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. That’s why it's more expensive than the typical syrups in grocery stores. However, since maple syrup is sweeter and flows more easily, you end up using much less maple syrup than you would traditional syrup. Also, since you keep maple syrup refrigerated, warming it up in the microwave for 15 seconds before you serve it makes it an extra special treat.
As with most food items, the cheaper processed foods are usually cheaper for a reason. The ‘other’ syrups you find in the store might say maple on them, but they usually only contain a few percent maple syrup, and the rest is corn syrup. In reality, they taste nothing like maple syrup and you usually end up dousing your food with syrup just to coat everything.
If you’ve never tried maple syrup before, I strongly suggest you get a small bottle and give it a shot. Most grocery stores and specialty shops have a variety of grades and sizes of maple syrup, so just pick one and see what you like. It’s not necessary to get overly complex, even the worst maple syrup is worlds better than the other stuff.