Enjoy Real Maple Syrup

It's worth spending the extra money to buy real maple syrup. It tastes infinitely better than the cheaper pancake syrup you can find in the grocery store, which is often corn syrup with little if any natural maple flavor. Maple syrup comes mainly from the northeastern United States, and eastern Canada, where there are large stands of sugar maple trees. If you live in that area, you can try tapping maple trees yourself.

  • JessicaKlick
    Jessica Klick harvests sap from a maple tree on her land in Vermont.
    Jessica Klick

  • JessicaKlick

Although we tend to think of all syrup as generically “maple,” most commercial syrups contain little, if any, sugar from maple trees. Most of the pancake syrup that Americans eat is mostly corn syrup and lacks the rich and subtle flavors of pure maple syrup. Legally, these corn-syrup based products can’t be called “maple syrup” — instead the label will say “pancake syrup,” or simply “syrup.” That makes it easy to pick out the real thing: Pure maple syrup will be clearly identified both on the front of the bottle, and on the ingredients list.

Real maple syrup costs quite a bit more than other pancake syrups — think $6 for a small bottle, instead of $2. But the difference in flavor is worth the extra money. It's like drinking 100 percent fruit juice, instead of fruit drinks made with “natural fruit flavors.” Most pancake syrup tastes like sugar. Pure maple syrup tastes like maple trees.

How It's Made
Maple syrup comes mainly from the northeastern United States, and eastern Canada, where there are large stands of sugar maple trees. Making it is labor intensive: To harvest the sap, you put a tap into the tree. When temperatures rise in the early spring, the sap flows through the tap and into a bucket below. Once you’ve collected enough of the sap, you boil it to remove most of the water and make it sweeter. Forty gallons of sap makes about 1 gallon of syrup. If harvesting is done responsibly, it doesn’t hurt the tree, and can take place year after year.

New England farmers and homesteaders have been making maple syrup for generations, and many have written about how it works. One book with a lot more information is The Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott Nearing. Noel Perrin is another rural living writer who has described sugar making in detail, including a book, the Amateur Sugar Maker and a pamphlet, Making Maple Syrup.

Make Your Own
If you’d like to try making maple syrup yourself, you can find much more information through extension service publications. Here are two to try:


1/17/2009 9:55:58 PM

To Ramon's question: while there are some different proportions of chemical components in darker syrup (grade c versus grade b), there is no research showing one is healthier than the other. To put it briefly, it's all just about as healthy as eating a solution of 2/3 sugar and 1/3 water. There is all sorts of talk on the web about grade b being healthier than grade a, etc., but I've yet to see any actual research indicating so. Most references I see have to do with diet fads that are, to be frank, plainly bogus. To Barbara's question: A few decades ago, a form of formaldehyde (paraformaldehyde) was used in the tap holes of trees, the thinking being that it would act as a disinfectant and prolong the period in which sap would flow. It was banned in both Canada and the U.S. (the only two maple producers of any quantity) after it was shown that it didn't completely volatilize out of solution during the boiling process, and it also appears to have hurt tree health. Today, vacuum systems on sap tubing serves the same purpose without adding any chemical to the syrup. -Tig tillinghastmaple.com

Ramon Toledo
5/22/2007 12:00:00 AM

Always thought grade B was the healthiest of all maples, now I hear grade C is.Please clarify.ThanksRamon

Barbara Gelinas
5/16/2007 12:00:00 AM

I read somewhere that formaldehyde is sometimes used in processing maple syrup. Does anyone know if this is true? Thanks!

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