A special breakfast simply isn't complete without a stack of pancakes or a crisp, fluffy waffle dripping with maple syrup. But with so many brands and variations on the market, how do you choose?
To get a handle on the sticky stuff, we scoured the market for nationally available products and divided our findings into two categories: maple syrup and pancake syrup. For syrup purists, the real maple variety, tapped from sugar maples in New England and Canada and boiled down into syrup, represents liquid gold. Maple syrups are graded by color—darker syrups have a stronger maple flavor—so we confined our test to the most commonly available type: Grade A Dark Amber, which is the darkest of the Grade A syrups. (We recommend Grade B, which is even darker, for baking.)
Just as committed as the maple syrup mavens are the pancake syrup lovers, who prefer the more substantial texture and sweeter taste of these maple-flavored products, typically made with corn syrup and caramel color. Having identified 13 syrups to taste (8 maple and 5 pancake), we set out to find a top contender in each category with a strong maple flavor, good consistency, and an authentic amber hue. Though a few fell flat, we tasted some seriously good syrup.
Pure Maple Syrup: Best Overall :
Camp ($8.59 for 8.5 ounces)
Pros: Tasters' comments on the flavor ranged from "authentic" to "assertive" to just plain "great." Another advantage: a "good thickness for real maple syrup," noted one judge—not as thin as some other pure maple syrups.
(See also: Taste test: The best (and worst) frozen waffles )
Pure Maple Syrup: Second Runner-Up :
Kirkland ($12.99 for 33.8 ounces)
Pros: Most judges commended this pick for its balance of sweetness and maple flavor. An appealing consistency elicited favorable feedback, too. "Not too thick and not too thin," summed up one taster. In addition, Kirkland is an economical choice, with the lowest per-ounce price of the pure maple syrups we tested.
Pure Maple Syrup: Second Runner-Up :
Trader Joe's ($16.99 for 32 ounces)
Pros: The dark color and thick texture of this syrup impressed the tasters. "It adhered to the waffle's surface nicely," one observed.
Pancake Syrup: Best Overall
Mrs. Butterworth's ($5.49 for 24 ounces)
Pros: "It's very well balanced, not too sweet or overpowering," stated one taster. Others enjoyed the rich flavor and buttery notes.
Pancake Syrup: First Runner-Up
Trader Joe's Short Stack Pancake Syrup ($2.49 for 12 ounces)
Pros: The judges liked the amber, almost reddish, color and strong maple flavor of this syrup: "Deep-dark caramel, looks pretty!"
Pancake Syrup: Second Runner-Up :
Log Cabin ($3.69 for 24 ounces)
Pros: The "slightly fruity and nutty" flavor was a hit, as was its "nice dark, golden brown color."
The Other Contenders
Of the pure maple syrups tasted, most testers found Whole Foods 365 on the thin side, but its flavor unobtrusive in a good way. Spring Tree got favorable ratings in flavor but fell down in texture: "For this concentration of maple flavor, you'd expect the syrup to be more robust," noted one judge. Both McClure's and Maple Grove Farms were faulted for being a bit too sweet. Maple Gold lacked maple flavor and had an odd aftertaste.
Among the pancake syrups tried, many tasters noted that Aunt Jemima has a very buttery flavor that reminded them of childhood. But overall, it was judged too sweet, with a bit of a chemical aftertaste. Hungry Jack, though enjoyably mild in flavor, was ultimately found to be lackluster.
Additional Taste Test Details
All 13 types of maple and pancake syrup evaluated are available nationwide in supermarkets or online. The maple syrups, listed from highest to lowest score achieved, are: Camp, Kirkland, Trader Joe's 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup, Spring Tree, Whole Foods 365, Maple Grove Farms, McLure's, Maple Gold. The pancake syrups, listed from highest to lowest score achieved, are: Mrs. Butterworth's, Trader Joe's Short Stack Pancake Syrup, Log Cabin, Aunt Jemima, Hungry Jack.
Methodology: In a blind taste test, judges compared the flavor, consistency, and appearance of 13 types of maple and pancake syrup. The syrups were tasted with plain frozen waffles prepared in a toaster. Results were ranked using the Epicurious four-fork rating system (four being best).
Prices and availability subject to change.
*Yahoo! Shopping was not compensated by any of the brands listed within this Epicurious article.
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