In April, maple syrup hit $60 a gallon—it was about $45/gallon in 2008—and many of us syrup lovers had already noticed sticker shock at the grocery store and specialty shop. In some places, the price of maple syrup has doubled—Vermont producers reported that in early 2008, they were paid roughly $2 per pound for “fancy grade” syrup, but by January 2009 the price was $4/lb for any grade.
There are several reasons for this. One—demand. Genuine maple syrup is a North American product, native to southeastern Canada and the Northeast, but the rest of world has developed a taste for it, mainly via aggressive marketing from Canada. The last two winters have been brutal to production—the long, bitter cold left less time for tapping roots of the northern maples, thus reducing output. The normally plentiful Canadian reserves were depleted in making up for the shortfall. Add the higher cost of fuel—yes, it takes some kind of fuel to run the evaporators for maple syrup—and we’re looking at some crazy prices for maple syrup right here at the retail level in Chicago. All over the States, chain restaurants have been using less—Cracker Barrel went to 55% maple syrup and 45% cane syrup in its "100% Pure Natural Syrup" at its restaurants. But how much of a difference does it make in flavor? And if one is throwing down for a high-grade maple syrup, which one is actually worth it?
We had two very particular foodies—Sarah and Julia—blind taste test four syrups (each is easily available in downtown Chicago) with bites of a typical multigrain blueberry pancake and tell us about their loves and hates.
Rate fourth. Trader Joe’s Organic Maple Agave syrup blend ($3.29/12 oz)
Julia—“Pronounced honey flavor overwhelms the pancake but forms a nice counterpart to the berries in the pancake.”
Sarah–“This has the consistency and look of urine, but tastes like honey. I do not like this one at all, too thin. Flavor is very one-note—it tasted more like honey than syrup.”
Rated third. Mrs. Butterworth’s ($4.69/24 oz)
Julia—“This genre cannot be rated in the same system. Conventional pancake-house gloopy syrup.”
Sarah–“Super thick. Probably unnatural but gooely delicious. This looks and feels cheap but it is satisfying. Reminds me of my childhood.”
Rated second. Whole Foods 365 Organic Grade A Maple Syrup Dark Amber ($8.99/12 oz)
Julia—“This pancake is so good! This syrup is a little bitter”
Sarah–“Runny, too sweet. It just doesn’t add anything to the pancake; it is weak.”
Rated first. Trader Joe’s 100% pure Maple Syrup, Grade A Medium Amber ($5.49/12 oz)
Julia—“I like four the best. Balanced, woodsy flavor, light.”
Sarah–“This is sweet but not too sweet. A good, rich texture but not too gooey.”