Make sure you get what you're paying for
Premium Maple Syrup
by Rich Finzer
Throughout the Northeast and upper Midwest, late February to early March mark the start of sugaring season; it's the time of year when commercial producers begin making maple syrup. Additionally, in the 17 states where the bulk of domestic syrup production occurs, maple festivals are held, encouraging folks to visit their local syrup producers. How do I know this? Well, for starters, I've been making my own maple syrup for over 20 years, won a blue ribbon in a judged competition at the New York State Fair, and have written an award winning book on the topic.
But maybe you don't live where syrup is produced. Maybe you live somewhere else like Texas or Alabama. So how do you know that the maple syrup you're buying is the real thing? Be assured that it is because all commercially produced and sold maple syrup must be tested by the Agriculture Department or its equivalent in the state or country where it was made.
This is important because our neighbor Canada produces over three times as much syrup as the U.S., but Canadian maple syrup is exactly as "mapley" as its domestic counterpart. Further, the store brand of maple syrup is precisely as "mapley" as the stuff in the fancy glass flask. If you absolutely must have the stuff in the bottle shaped like a maple leaf, knock yourself out, but the contents won't vary from the store brand. Plainly stated, maple syrup is maple syrup, but you'll pay at least a 50% premium price for the fancy bottle although the fancy packaging won't enhance the flavor of your pancakes.
By law, the FDA defines maple syrup as having a sugar content of 66 to 67 percent. If it's any less, it's not quite maple syrup. If it's any higher, the stuff is no longer maple syrup. It's becoming maple cream. More importantly, only maple syrup may be labeled as "Pure Maple Syrup." If the label reads "maple-flavored syrup" or "contains maple flavoring," then what you're buying is not the real deal.
The commonly sold grades of maple syrup are either medium amber or dark amber. If intense maple flavor is what you crave, then buy dark amber. Conversely, if sweetness with little maple flavor is your desire, then visit your local sugar house and purchase some light amber or "fancy" grade. Be warned, however, because fancy grade sells for a premium price.
If given a choice and the prices are roughly equivalent, you should purchase a plastic jug of syrup as opposed to a clear bottle. Plastic protects the syrup from sunlight, which robs it of its flavor. After opening, refrigerate your syrup. It will keep for up to two years, not that yours is likely to last that long.
Like purchasing a decent grade of coffee, maple syrup is another of the tiny luxuries even dedicated frugalmeisters can afford to splurge on. And it's the best friend a plate load of French toast ever had.
Rich Finzer resides in upstate New York. During his 43 years as a writer, he has published nearly 1,100 newspaper, magazine and Internet articles. His award winning book, Maple on Tap is available from his publisher Acres USA. His two novels, Taking the Tracks and Julie & Me, are available from Amazon Kindle.
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