When I was young my mother put me and my sister on the Feingold Diet
. This was an effort to control hyperactivity by removing various things from our diets: no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, and no "natural salicylates." I'm neutral on whether it had any effect on me: I was ten, and not exactly the closest student of my own nature. It did have a number of negative social side effects ("oh, my kids can't have kool-aid / cokes / candy bars"), so that's shaped my opinion of the whole exercise.
It did have at least one positive effect: from about the age of eight, "syrup" to me has meant real maple syrup.
Mark Bittman, in the aptly-named How To Cook Everything, has this to say about maple syrup: "The difference between real maple syrup and the colored and flavored sugar syrup sold at most supermarkets is equivalent to the difference between butter and margarine: One is a natural, wholesome product, and the other is a nutritionally useless, not-very-good-tasting, unnatural substitute."
US maple syrup comes in four varieties: three levels of Grade A (light amber, medium amber, and dark amber), and Grade B (darker than any of the Grade A varieties). They're graded based on translucency: a darker syrup indicates a stronger flavor, and thus (as far as Bittman and I are concerned) a better syrup. Now, Grade B is inexplicably hard to find. The only reliable source I've found has been Trader Joe's, where they sell it in something like 30oz bottles. Unless you're me this will be enough syrup to last you for quite awhile.
When I first got here I thought Canadian maple syrup came in three varieties that get darker as you go down: two levels of #1 whose names I forget because honestly who even cares?, and #2 Amber. It wasn't until we were perusing one of the overpriced grocery stores (probably Urban Fare) that I found a large bottle of #3 Dark.
"O yes," I said, and immediately paid too much for a litre of maple syrup and brought it home, and tried it out on pancakes the next morning.
There is, it turns out, such a thing as too much maple. uilos
has been known to describe gin as "chewing on Christmas trees." This was like chewing on maple trees: not exactly woody, and not exactly smoky, and still somewhat sweet, but... kind of like accidentally nibbling on a block of baker's unsweetened chocolate when you're expecting semisweet. We bought a bottle of #2 and combined them, and that cut the flavor down to where it was edible on pancakes and waffles.
I looked it up
later. Turns out US Grade B is anything from 44% to 27% translucent. This is equivalent to Canadian #2; #3 is anything less than 27% translucent. (The US description of this grade is "Substandard," but what do they know?) So, you know, about twice as much maple as I'd been expecting. Yow.
On the bright side, the #3 does wonderfully in baking, or when mixed in with oatmeal for breakfast. So now we just buy two different (giant) bottles of maple syrup, and keep careful track of which is which when making pancakes.