Maple syrup is made from the rising spring sap of a number of varieties of maple tree native to the US and Canada. The syrup is reduced by boiling in open pans, and was widely used by Native Americans long before the arrival of Europeans.

The finished syrup is about 66 per cent sucrose, and has a honey-like flavour. Maple syrup can be drizzled over sweet or savoury foods, such as pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs, or in stews and desserts.

Choose the best

Because the process of collecting and boiling down the sap to make maple syrup requires a lot of manpower and time, it's quite expensive. There are many products available offering a similar taste and experience for less.

Any product labelled 'maple syrup' must be pure maple syrup. While Canada and the US have slightly different grading systems, the colour of the syrup is your guide. Lightness or darkness of colour indicate the lightness or darkness of flavour, in turn reflecting the way maple syrup changes according to the time of collection.

If you plan to use it for drizzling over pancakes and waffles, go for the lighter colours. If you're using it to flavour cakes and muffins, or to add a touch of sweetness to stews or other savoury dishes, you might choose a darker, more robust style.

Maple-flavoured syrups, sometimes sold as 'breakfast' or 'pancake' syrups, will be cheaper, but these are made up of a sugar syrup that has been artificially flavoured and coloured.

There are other products made from maple syrup, including maple sugar. This can be used in baking without affecting liquid balances, and is excellent sprinkled on fruits such as strawberries and raspberries, or on pears, apples, plums, peaches and nectarines before lightly grilling.

Cinnamon is always a welcome accompaniment to maple syrup.

Store it

Maple syrup has a very long shelf life.

Cook it

Heat enhances our mouth’s awareness of sweetness, so the flavour of maple syrup is enhanced when it's drizzled over hot pancakes and waffles. However, it's inhibited when poured cold or chilled. Warm maple syrup and melted butter is a delicious combination.

To use maple syrup rather than sugar in baking, reduce the amount by ¼ (or 25 per cent) and slightly reduce any other liquid content. Depending on the grade of syrup used, the finished result will look darker than when using white sugar. You might also substitute only a fraction of the sugar with maple syrup, but this can make a negligible difference to the finished flavour if using a light syrup.

Maple syrup is an excellent way to flavour icings and frostings, and can be used as a hot drizzle for cakes, bakes and muffins. Beat it into butter with or without orange zest to serve with hot cinnamon scones or muffins, or fold it into whipped cream to serve with pies and flans, particularly where chocolate and/or cinnamon are present.