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The following is part of an Organic Journey guest post series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
This past weekend, I went on my annual girls’ getaway with old friends from college. While we were eating a delicious breakfast of french toast, we started talking about maple syrup. I have to be honest, I haven’t liked it for years, and apparently, I wasn’t alone. Recently, I bought some at the farmer’s market that was uber expensive, and it was heavenly. I didn’t know if I liked it more because my taste buds have changed, because of what grade it was or because of something else unknown to me that made it expensive. I want to recreate that maple syrup magic of my actually liking it, but some research is necessary to make it affordable.
Have you been shopping for maple syrup and been overwhelmed by the choices? There are so many different kinds of maple syrup and all of it was Greek to me. So, here is the lowdown. In the U.S. (yep, if you live somewhere else, the rules change), maple syrup is divided by grade (A, B or C) and by color (Light, Medium and Dark) There is also organic and non-organic syrup. Overwhelmed yet? Let’s break it down.
This has the lightest maple flavor of your three grades. Grade A is further categorized by Light, Medium and Dark Amber. While these categories are specifically designed to measure the color and translucence of the of syrup, they also indicate how robust the flavor of maple is in the syrup. The lighter the color, the lighter the maple taste. The darker the color, the more intense the flavor.
If you are looking to cook with maple syrup, this is what you would buy as it is sometimes referred to as Cooking Syrup. This has a stronger maple flavor than any of the Grade A options.
This is commercial grade and according to Fuller’s Sugarhouse:
“Maple syrup Grade C (commercial) is sold only in bulk (40 gallon barrels) to industrial producers of maple flavored products. Any food product claiming to be flavored with real maple syrup, ie: maple flavored bacon, hot and cold maple flavored cereal, imitation “maple” syrup etc., will use commercial grade syrup as an additional additive for flavoring.” So this won’t be an option for you when you are shopping.
Here is the fun part, you have to figure out what kind you like best. It is like deciding what kind of apple you like, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or Fuji. It is just a personal preference. So, if you try Grade A Dark Amber and your family is not pleased, you can try again with another type until you find the kind that is right for you. I just pulled out my maple syrup and it was organic Grade B, the fun part is that I had just had some Grade A Dark Amber yesterday, and I could tell the difference. Maybe we should just have a maple syrup tasting party!
I found particularly helpful the information that Cornell’s Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program had on their FAQ’s page. Is maple syrup healthier for you than white sugar? Their answer: “The sugar in maple syrup is sucrose with small amounts of glucose and fructose sugar. White sugar is sucrose. There is no direct scientific evidence that maple syrup is healthier than white sugar. Diabetics need to treat maple syrup and sugar as they do other sugar products. Because it is a less refined sugar, maple products contain minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds that have been shown to have health advantages in other foods.”
I was also wondering what the difference was between organic and non-organic maple syrup. There are a few things that make the difference including the use of herbicides and pesticides in the forests and the practices used to produce sustainable forests (including limiting the number of taps per tree). But Cornell said this: “The overwhelming majority of maple syrup is produced in forests where no herbicides or pesticides have been applied. Therefore, most maple syrup would be considered organic.” In other words, it might not be labeled organic because they haven’t gone through the certification process, but most are considered organic. Now, how can you be sure what you are buying is part of the most? You can’t. It’s up to you to decide which baby step works for your family here.
Now, you might be like I was for years, enjoying the high fructose laden syrups like Mrs. Butterworth’s (yum) or some other variety and maple syrup just tastes nasty to you. Here’s where I think baby steps are key. Your baby step might be moving to a syrup like Log Cabin that has no high fructose corn syrup (and is often on sale B1G1 at Publix). As your family transitions to the way that tastes, it might be easier to make the switch to maple syrup over time. I know taking baby steps in this area has definitely made a difference for my family because let’s be honest, if you don’t like the way that something tastes, unless you are incredibly self-disciplined, you’ll go back to the familiar.
There are other alternatives too in making yummy pancakes or waffles. We will occasionally put in some chocolate chips, peaches, bananas, apples or blueberries into our pancakes, and then our kiddos are content to eat them without syrup (not me though, must admit, it is too dry for my taste!) You could use whip cream as a topping or you could even make a fruit syrup like this one from 100 Days of Real Food. Another option is to make your own syrup. Here is a recipe made with Sucanat (a less refined brown sugar alternative). Again, the key in all of this is to figure out which baby step works for your family. A baby step in the right direction is better than no movement at all!
Where have you found the best deal on maple syrup? Or if you don’t love it, what do you put on your pancakes?