The Flavors of Maple Syrups

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The final composition of maple syrup is approximately 62% sucrose, 34% water, 3% glucose and fructose, and 0.5% malic and other acids, and traces of amino acids. The characteristic flavor of the syrup includes sweetness from the sugars, a slight tartness from the acids, and a range of aroma notes, including vanilla from vanillin (a common wood by-product) and various products of sugar caramelization and browning reactions between the sugars and amino acids. The longer and hotter the syrup is boiled, the darker the color and the heavier the taste. Maple syrups are graded according to color, flavor, and sugar content, with grade A assigned to the lighter, more delicately flavored, sometimes less concentrated syrups that are poured directly onto foods. Grades B and C are stronger in caramel flavor and are more often used for cooking, for example in baked goods and meat glazes. Because true maple syrup is expensive, many supermarket syrups contain little or none, and are artificially flavored.