Because not only will your pancakes get better, your whole life will.

By Lia Picard
Updated October 19, 2020
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Buddy the Elf might have been on to something when he doused his spaghetti in maple syrup. Because while you may think the syrup hiding in your fridge is a one-note substance meant to be drizzled on pancakes, it’s actually capable of so much more.

For one, there are actually a variety of maple syrups out there and all of them can be used in sweet and savory applications (though spaghetti may be too far). While artisan maple syrup costs more than the generic stuff, it lasts forever in the fridge and is a worthy investment. The key is starting with a good bottle of maple syrup and knowing what to do with it.

A new way to think about maple syrup

If you currently squeeze syrup out of a plastic bottle labeled “breakfast syrup,” it’s time to reconsider swapping it for something artisanal. There are many steps in the maple syrup process that set small artisanal brands apart from large scale productions, but a big one is in how the sap is extracted. “We let the trees, the gravity, and the weather dictate when the trees are going to release the sap as opposed to creating a vacuum,” explains Paul Haldeman, cofounder of Zoar Tapatree in upstate New York.

Choosing good maple syrup is akin to picking out a bottle of wine, says Haldeman. Like wine, syrup can exhibit terroir—the influence of specific place on flavor depending on the soil, the weather, and specifics of each season’s progression. For example, Zoar’s maple syrup is made from trees grown on limestone bedrock, so its essence will differ from a syrup produced in a nearby forest grown on granite that changes the soil’s acidity.

The flavor and color of the syrup also changes depending on what the day was like when the sap was drawn — a warmer day typically results in a darker, complex maple syrup while a cooler day usually means a lighter syrup.

Credit: showcake/Getty Images

showcake/Getty Images

It’s for more than pancakes (although there’s nothing wrong, ever, with pancakes)

Rachel Wright, sous chef of Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, GA, can’t say enough about using maple syrup, from using it in pastries to stirring it into her morning coffee. “It's more complex than sugar and less sweet than sugar,” she says. “You have more control over how sweet your final product is than with sugar, because sugar is always more heavy-handed.”

A secret ingredient for everything from soups to stir-fry

One way Wright likes to use maple syrup is by adding a small amount (she favors Michigan-made Blis syrup) to a savory dish so that it accentuates other flavor elements and makes the dish’s flavor more complex. “Anything fall is good with maple syrup,” she says. “Something that immediately comes to mind is fall soups, like squash or pumpkin.” Wright suggests making a curried pumpkin soup and adding a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup to create a caramelly depth of flavor.

Another easy way to use maple syrup is in vinaigrettes. One of Wright’s favorite combinations used to dress a fall salad is tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and maple syrup. “When you're tasting it, you'll never be like, 'Hmm. There's maple syrup in here.’ But it's just great,” says Wright.

Even dark maple syrups, which tend to have a higher viscosity and chocolate-y flavor profile, can be used in savory dishes. Haldemann tends to use some in stir fries with mushrooms and finds that the syrup amplifies the umami. “I take a bottle of each of our syrups, easily, and I just play with them in the meals that I make,” he laughs. “I can usually find a use for just about any one of them.”

Three delicious maple syrups to buy right now

Not sure where to start? Here are three excellent maple syrups to add to your collection (or give as gifts this season!).

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Courtesy Amazon

Runamok Maple Bourbon Barrel-aged Maple Syrup

Based in Fairfax, Vermont, Runamok creates smoky maple syrups with the help of bourbon barrels.

Buy it here: Runamok Maple Bourbon Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup, ($16.95), amazon.com

Credit: Courtesy Williams Sonoma

Courtesy Williams Sonoma

Blis Bourbon Barrel-aged Pure Maple Syrup

It’s a splurge, but this syrup is the preferred brand at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur where Wright is a sous chef. Perfect if you like notes of butterscotch and vanilla.

Buy it here: Blis Bourbon Barrel-aged Pure Maple Syrup, ($29.95), williams-sonoma.com

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Courtesy Amazon

Escuminac Great Harvest Maple Syrup

Hailing from Quebec, this is one of Escuminac’s most popular batches with a medium viscosity and notes of toffee.

Buy it here: Escuminac Great Harvest Maple Syrup ($23.95), amazon.com