Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Do Maple Syrup Grades Mean? Cleo Coyle Gives You a Clue and a Recipe!

This past weekend Vermont had its annual Maple Festival, a celebration that's been held for nearly five decades to mark the end of the state's sugaring season. The season, which generally runs from early March through late April, is the time when "sugar makers" collect sap from their maple trees and boil it down into sweet sticky syrup, not to mention maple sugar, maple candy, and maple cream (okay, so I mentioned them). 

Click here for a list of Vermont maple syrup producers, many of whom have online shops. 

Cleo Coyle, maple maniac,
is author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries
All this maple syrup talk has put me in the mood to get busy eating it. Lately, I've been splashing it into oatmeal, stirring it into yogurt, and baking up maple sugar cookies, too (recipe below), which leads me to a note on ingredients. 

Maple vs. "Pancake" Syrup

As most of you know, pure maple syrup has one ingredient: maple syrup. That stuff they label "pancake syrup" is actually corn syrup flavored with maple extract.
I once tried baking with "pancake syrup"--I mean, hey, it is less expensive than pure maple syrup, and I thought, oh, what the heck. My "pancake syrup" muffins turned out dry and mealy. I threw them away. Pure maple syrup costs more, but you get a superior taste and texture from the real thing, even better nutrition.

Maple Syrup is a Healthier Choice
than Corn Syrup or Honey

That's right, maple syrup has less calories than honey or corn syrup, and far more value in nutrition. According to the FDA: 1/4 cup of maple syrup (216 calories) will give you 95% of the Recommended Daily Value of Manganese; 37% of Riboflavin, 6% Zinc, 7% Magnesium, 5% Calcium, and 5% Potassium.  

In comparison, 1/4 of corn syrup (220 calories) carries almost no nutrition; and while honey (261 calories) and brown sugar (216 calories) bring more to the table than white sugar or corn syrup, in terms of nutrition, they don't come close to the benefits of maple syrup. 

Understanding Maple Syrup's 
Labels and Grading...

You may have noticed maple syrups include grades on their labels, but maple Grades A and B are not about quality, they're about color, density, and taste

I'll put it another way: some people prefer dark beer, others light. One isn't better than the other, just different. The same will likely be true for your own taste in maple syrup. One isn't "better" than the other, they're simply different. The descriptions below should help give you a clue, which ones are for you...

Photo by Dvortygirl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

All US states must use the USDA color standards to grade (or classify) their maple syrups, but (here's the tricky party) each state is allowed to use its own words to describe these colors. Because Canada supplies 80% of the world's maple syrup, I'm going to decode their wording along with the USDA's. After Canada, the state of Vermont is the leading maple syrup producer, so I'll also include their wording. First up...

Grade A - Light Amber -
Description: This is the first syrup of the season that is harvested. It is clear and light in color with a very mild maple flavor. Good on ice cream and other foods that allow a subtle maple flavor to come through
Vermont calls this grade "Fancy" and Canada calls it "Extra Light."

Grade A - Medium Amber
Description: This is the grade you'll most often find on store shelves. It has characteristic maple flavor and is a little darker in color than "light" or "fancy" and has a slightly heavier maple taste. It's good for pancakes, waffles, and is generally popular for the table. 
Vermont calls this grade "Medium Amber" ~ Canada calls it "No. 1 Light Grade A."

Grade A - Dark Amber (my favorite)
Description: This grade is produced toward the end of the maple syrup season as the weather begins to warm up. It's a darker shade than "Medium Amber" and imparts a stronger maple flavor. I find this to be a satisfying syrup for table use--pancakes, waffles, and also very good on yogurt and oatmeal. I like it's versatility because it's robust enough for baking, too. For those of you who'd like a more hearty and classic maple flavor, this is it. 
Vermont calls this grade "Dark Amber" ~ Canada calls it "No. 1 Medium Grade A").

Grade B -
Description: This syrup is much darker than the others and is made at the end of the sugaring season. It imparts the strongest flavor of maple--maybe too strong for some with notes of caramel. This is sometimes called "cooking syrup" because it's primarily used in recipes--meat marinades, breads, muffins, etc. According to Vermont's literature, this grade is gaining popularity in use at the table. 
Vermont calls this one "Grade B" ~ Canada calls it "No. 2 Amber."

Final note: Vermont has a Grade even darker than B called "Commercial" ~ Canada calls this very dark Grade "No. 2 Dark," but you're not likely to see these grades sold in stores. Also - according to the University of Vermont, Canada uses slightly different color standards, which lead to slightly darker syrups in each of the above grades. 

And there you have it, the grades explained!

As for my recipe today, it's a simple but delicious one that makes use of pure maple syrup. The cookies are great with coffee, tea, or big glass of moo juice. If you bake them, I certainly hope you will...

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo 

Maple Sugar Cookies

Recipe adapted by Cleo Coyle
 from The Vermont 
Maple Festival
Maple Cookbook*

*Ingredients were changed, and directions 

were changed and completely rewritten, 
but the cookbook did inspire me!


To download this recipe in a
PDF document that you can
print, save, or share, click here.

Cleo's Maple Sugar Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies 

½ cup (8 tablespoons) butter
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not "pancake syrup")
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
(for rolling) 1/3 cup white, granulated sugar


Step 1 - Make the dough: Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and light brown sugar. When well blended, add the maple syrup, lightly beaten egg, and vanilla, and mix until well blended. Lightly sift the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking soda) into the bowl and mix until a dough forms. Do not over mix or you will develop the gluten in the flour and your cookies will be tough instead of tender. Chill for about 30 minutes. 

Step 2 – Roll and bake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the dough into balls of about 1-inch in diameter. Drop each dough ball into a shallow bowl of granulated sugar (about
1/3 cup) and lightly coat before placing on the sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, remove from oven, cool and...

Eat (and read) with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
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