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Every time we go out to breakfast or brunch, my one friend has to bring something with her…
She packs her own stash of pure maple syrup, a mini bottle tucked away in her purse.
To some, it might be an odd thing to do – why not just use the syrup the restaurant provides?
But did you know that there isn’t just one kind of maple syrup?
With a range of flavors, colors, grades, and sweetness levels, it is a unique ingredient perfect for a wide range of applications: topping your breakfast, mixing into cocktails, and using as a glaze for veggies and meats.
It’s no wonder that my friend has a particular kind she likes to use!
So how is this sweet stuff actually made?
There’s a lot to do to way before you grab a bottle and pour a cascade of syrup on your stack of pancakes!
If you’ve ever been curious just how that addictively rich, sweet liquid is made, keep on reading. With the help and know-how of one expert in the field, we tap into the process of making of maple syrup, and the different varieties available to buy now.
How It’s Made
Laura Sorkin and Eric Sorkin, married co-founders of Runamok Maple, know all about the process of making this sweet concoction. Their Vermont-based company produces a deliciously sweet variety of pure, infused, smoked, and barrel-aged options – all tapped from the 81,000 trees grown in the 1,350 acres Runamok owns, spanning across the northern part of the state.
Laura Sorkin is the perfect source to explain how it’s made.
First, the production of maple syrup is referred to as sugaring (how sweet!).
In mid-winter, trees are “tapped” by drilling a small hole in each tree and hammering in a tap, which can be connected to a tube and large tank.
Once the sap has been extracted and transported to the sugar house, the maple syrup production facility, the majority of the water in the syrup is removed – for Runamok’s products, 90% of the water is removed.
“The concentrated sap is then boiled to syrup consistency. It takes between 40-50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.”
The concentrated liquid is then sent through a filter press to create a clear, amber liquid – maple syrup!
The final product can have a world of variations.
“Just like wine and cheese, there will be a difference in taste of maple syrup depending upon where it came from,” explains Sorkin.
“The French call it terroir, and it just means that the taste profile is a product of the soil and climate of our property.”
“The taste of the syrup will also change within the season, starting out light and getting darker as the season goes on,” Sorkin continues.
Want to learn more about the different options available to you? Keep reading below to get all the info you need on the grading scale, and what it means in terms of taste.
Grading the Sweet Sap
Although not required, most United States varieties are assigned a grade – on a scale of four different US Grade A color/taste classes.
Grade is typically determined by color, translucence, and flavor. Some factors that affect grading include sugar content of the sap, what point in the season it was harvested, and the rate of evaporation.
Grade A classification requires that it is clean, free from cloudiness, and free from off flavors and odors, with a uniform, bright color.
Grade is an important factor to consider when making a purchase.
During a trip to Vermont, I was able to attend a tasting. I was offered samples of each grade in order to figure out which one was my favorite, and I suggest you do the same to pick out what you like based on your personal flavor preferences.
A kitchen full of this sweet, delicious condiment? Who’s complaining…
See below for a more detailed rundown on the most recent USDA grade classifications, and where to find some of our favorites.
US Grade A Golden Color, Delicate Taste
This is the highest grade available, with a mild, subtle taste.
This variety is generally produced early in the season, when the temperature is cooler. Higher temperatures lead to sap fermentation, which contributes to the darker, more flavorful characteristics of the other grades.
Foodal Recommends Mount Mansfield Maple Syrup Golden Color, Delicate Taste
US Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste
This grade has a full-bodied taste of medium intensity – not too strong, not too delicate.
Foodal Recommends Runamok Sugarmaker’s Cut Organic Maple Syrup
Runamok Sugarmaker’s Cut has this grade, produced in the middle of the season when “we find the flavor to have the perfect balance of caramel, acid, honey and floral flavors,” Sorkin says.
Another favorite of this type is Maine Maple Syrup, available from Stonewall Kitchen, which they say is “one of [their] most sought after localized items.”
Foodal Recommends Maine Maple Syrup, available in several sizes from Stonewall Kitchen
US Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste
Products sold with this grade will have a stronger taste than any of the previous grades.
Foodal Recommends Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste
US Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste
This grade will have the strongest taste compared to all other grades.
Foodal Recommends Anderson’s Pure Maple Syrup Grade A Very Dark, Strong Taste
For a fun exploration of a bevy of taste sensations, this deliciously sticky sweetener can be infused and flavored with a variety of ingredients.
Wanting “to do some different things with maple,” as Sorkin says, Runamok has produced a line of barrel-aged and infused selections, often experimenting with new infusions and barrel types, like cinnamon and vanilla, smoked pecan wood, jasmine tea, and whiskey or bourbon barrels.
Have fun searching for your own favorite flavored syrups!
Foodal Recommends Runamok Barrel-Aged Bourbon Maple Syrup
The Other Guys
To ensure you’re getting the real stuff, look to the ingredients: you want to see 100% pure maple syrup! Unless you intend to buy something infused or flavored, there should be no other ingredients listed.
If you see corn syrup, caramel color, molasses, natural and artificial flavors, or stabilizers on the ingredient list, you are not eating the pure ingredient.
Do your research, readers!
A One-of-a-Kind Ingredient You Need to Have
My friend isn’t crazy – with so many subtle variations of taste and color with this product, she knows what she likes!
Take the time to find out what you like – experiment at home, go to tastings, and try new recipes to determine what your favorite varieties and grades are, and how you like to incorporate them in your kitchen.
Have any of you participated in sugaring before? We’d love to hear all about your experiences with this one-of-a-kind ingredient, and if you have any favorite recipes. Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For some of our favorite recipes that incorporate this sweet ingredient, try these:
- Pear Sorbet with Ginger-Infused Maple Syrup
- Sweet and Salty Maple Cookies
- Blueberry Galettes
- Vegan Pumpkin Muffins
Photos by Carol Sullivan © Runamok Maple, reprinted with permission. Product photos via Mount Mansfield, Runamok, Coombs Family Farms, Stonewall Kitchen, and Anderson’s. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Originally published by Jennifer Swartvagher on March 19th, 2015. Last updated: January 10, 2019 at 19:33 pm.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.