From maple and molasses to sorghum and cane syrup, here’s what they are and when to use which.

By Sarah Baird
March 23, 2020
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No one would deny that a drizzle of good maple syrup is delicious on a fresh, fluffy waffle or stack of pancakes. But what about all the other syrup options out there? If you’re looking to mix up your morning routine with different (regionally beloved) syrups, this handy guide will point you in the right direction for tasty, treacly success.  

Maple Syrup

The classic syrup that kids (and adults!) across America know and love, maple syrup (the real stuff, that is) comes from tapping maple trees then reducing the sap to make syrup. And while the majority of maple syrup in the world (around 80 percent) comes from Canada, I can’t help but be partial to the stuff from Vermont, which is categorized according to hue: There’s “Golden Color with Delicate Taste,” “Amber Color with Rich Taste,” “Dark with Robust Taste” and “Very Dark with Strong Taste.”  

Texture: Thin enough to glide generously out of a bottle, but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Flavor: It depends on the hue of the syrup (see above) but, generally, fairly caramelized and, uh, mapley. The darker you go, the maple-ier it gets.

One Good Way to Eat It: On literally any breakfast item, but I find it to be a particular treat on link breakfast sausages.

Sorghum

A Southern favorite that is slowly-but-surely winning hearts and tongues across the country, sorghum is made from the juice of the sorghum plant that’s crushed and then cooked down.

Texture: Thinner than molasses but thicker than maple syrup—the perfect consistency for mess-making.

Flavor: Rich, deep and dark, sorghum is simultaneously earthy and buttery.

One Good Way to Eat It: Plop a big ‘ol spoonful of it over any sort of hot cereal, but best of all, grits. (You can also bake it into a pretty delicious sorghum cookie or use it in a bourbon-based cocktail.)

Cane Syrup

The sweet elixir that South Louisianans swear by, cane syrup is made from the green juice of the sugarcane that’s been boiled down (typically in open kettles) until thick. I’m such a devotee of a certain small-batch producer of the stuff that I’m known to have a small bottle in my purse at all times in case a dish needs a little pick-me-up.

Texture: Smooth and supple, like honey but less sticky when poured.  

Flavor: Somehow simultaneously light and toasty, while still delivering just the right amount of butterscotch richness.

One Good Way to Eat It: Drizzled—thick and generous—over a piece of crumbly cornbread or rubbed on a piece of beef tenderloin to form the perfect, crackly crust.

Molasses

When I was getting ready in the morning as a child, my mom used to tell me that I was moving “slow as molasses,” and while she didn’t appreciate my take-your-time approach to dressing, I can’t imagine anything bad about being more like molasses. Molasses is the substance that’s left over after reducing cane or beet sugar and the sugar crystals have been removed. It’s a wintertime darling because it plays so well with baking spices (think: gingerbread) but definitely deserves attention year-round.

Texture: Thick, like syrup quicksand.

Flavor: Like so many other syrups, molasses comes in different taste-grades based on how long it has been reduced. There’s light molasses (perfect for baking), dark molasses (has a bit of a bitter undernote) and black strap molasses (save this for your savory dishes).

One Good Way to Eat It: Black strap can seem intimidating to some folks, but learn to love it in a big pot of baked beans.

Birch Syrup

Definitely not meant as a one-for-one replacement of maple syrup on a piping hot stack of pancakes, this complex syrup made from the sap of birch trees only contains 1 to 2 percent sugar unlike maple, which has a sugar content of 8 percent.

Texture: Easily coats the back of a spoon, similar to maple syrup.

Flavor: Complex and spicy-sweet with a hint of minerality and some underlying citrus notes.

One Good Way to Eat It: As a glaze on a fresh piece of high-quality salmon or other fish of choice.

Date Molasses

Chocked full of nutrients like potassium and magnesium (plus antioxidants!) this molasses made from dates that have been reduced, thickened and strained is perhaps the healthiest you’re going to get in the syrup department.

Texture: Silky—like a slightly thinner honey.

Flavor: Given its source ingredient, be prepare for plenty of raisin-like notes alongside a delicious brown sugar base.

One Good Way to Eat It:  Lightly drizzled over a granola and yogurt parfait or plunked in your regular cup of coffee as a sugar substitute.