Does maple syrup caramelize?

Maple syrup is a popular pancake topping and natural sweetener, but does it caramelize like regular granulated sugar? This is a common question for those who cook and bake with maple syrup. In this comprehensive 5000 word guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about maple syrup and caramelization.

What is Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, primarily the sugar maple. The sap contains water and sucrose, which is a sugar. Maple trees store starch in their roots and trunks during the winter. In early spring when temperatures start to rise, the starch converts to sugar and moves into the sap in the tree.

Maple syrup producers tap maple trees by drilling holes into the trunks and inserting a spout or tube. The sap drips out through the spout into a container. An average maple tree yields about 10 gallons of sap per season. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.[1]

After collection, the sap is boiled to evaporate most of the water, leaving behind the concentrated sugary syrup. The boiling process is usually done via steam in large evaporators. It takes about 1 hour of boiling to produce 1 quart of maple syrup. [2]

Pure maple syrup contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The main ingredients are just maple tree sap and water. It has a rich maple flavor and is approximately 60% sucrose. Maple syrup grades are classified by color and flavor:

  • Grade A Light Amber – Subtle maple flavor, light color
  • Grade A Medium Amber – Richer maple flavor, medium color
  • Grade A Dark Amber – Robust maple flavor, dark color
  • Grade A Very Dark/Grade B – Strongest maple flavor, very dark color

The darker grades tend to have stronger maple flavors and are usually produced later in the maple syrup season when sap content changes.[3]

What is Caramelization?

Caramelization is a process that occurs when sugars are heated to high temperatures. The heat causes the sugar molecules to break down and re-form into hundreds of new larger, more complex molecules. This chemical reaction produces caramel compounds that add unique flavors, aromas, and colors to food.[4]

When caramelization occurs, the liquid sweetener like maple syrup takes on a darker color. The flavor also changes from a plain sugary sweetness to rich, complex toasted and slightly bitter notes. The texture becomes thicker and more viscous as well. You’ll notice the difference between plain sugar and caramel right away.

Some common types of caramelization include:

  • Dry caramel – Made by heating plain granulated sugar until melted and browned
  • Wet caramel – Made by heating sugar with added water, cream or butter
  • Candy caramel – Caramel that is cooled and turned into a chewy candy
  • Sauce caramel – Thinner caramel used as a sauce or topping

Caramelization typically begins around 320°F (160°C). The higher the temperature, the darker the caramel will become.[5]

Does Maple Syrup Caramelize?

Yes, maple syrup can absolutely caramelize. When maple syrup is heated to high temperatures, the sucrose molecules break down and re-form into complex sugars, creating those delicious caramel flavors.

However, maple syrup caramelizes at a higher temperature than regular refined white sugar. This is because maple syrup contains water which increases its boiling point. Maple syrup is approximately 60% sucrose, while granulated white sugar is nearly 100% sucrose.[6]

According to research, pure maple syrup begins to caramelize between 230°C (446°F) and 234°C (453°F). This temperature range is known as the “caramelization point” of maple syrup. [7]

In comparison, white sugar caramelizes at 190°C (374°F) which is significantly lower than maple syrup. This means you need to heat maple syrup to a higher temperature before it will start to take on those brown caramel notes.

Caramelization Point of Various Sweeteners:

Sweetener Caramelization Point
White sugar 190°C (374°F)
Maple syrup 230-234°C (446-453°F)
Honey 180°C (356°F)
Corn syrup 154°C (309°F)

As you can see, maple syrup requires much higher temperatures to caramelize compared to refined white sugar or honey. This is why when making caramel you will often see recipes specify “do not stir once maple syrup comes to a boil” – the higher heat is needed to initiate those caramel reactions.

How to Caramelize Maple Syrup

Caramelizing maple syrup takes patience and care. Here is a step-by-step guide:


  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)


  1. Pour maple syrup into a medium thick-bottomed saucepan. For easier cleanup, you can coat the pan with butter or oil first.
  2. Heat the maple syrup over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Let it boil for 1 minute while stirring occasionally.
  3. Once boiling, stop stirring. From this point on, do not stir the maple syrup. Stirring will cool down the syrup and prevent caramelization.
  4. Continue heating the maple syrup. It will foam up at first. After several minutes, it will slowly start to thicken and turn a light amber color.
  5. Bring the heat down slightly if the maple syrup is foaming up too high. You want it to maintain a steady gentle boil.
  6. Let the maple syrup continue cooking for 15-25 minutes. Do not stir. Swirl the pan occasionally if you need to even out hot spots.
  7. The maple syrup will continue to thicken and darken to a rich amber brown color as it caramelizes.
  8. Once it reaches the desired caramel color, immediately remove from heat. The temperature when sufficiently caramelized is around 230°C (446°F).
  9. Optional: Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter once off heat. This adds a velvety richness.
  10. Let the caramelized maple syrup cool slightly. It will thicken up a lot as it cools.
  11. Pour into a heatproof jar or bottle. Use the caramel maple syrup as a topping, in recipes, or enjoy it straight on ice cream!

Tips for Caramelizing Maple Syrup:

  • Use a thick, heavy-bottomed pan to distribute heat evenly. The high heat can scorch thinner pans.
  • Heat gradually and let it boil slowly. Boiling too vigorously foams up the syrup.
  • Do not stir once boiling starts. This prevents the syrup from cooling down.
  • Swirl the pan occasionally to even out any hot spots or scorching.
  • Look for the color change. It will gradually darken to a rich brown.
  • Immediately remove from heat once the desired color is reached.
  • Maple syrup can go from caramelized to burnt very quickly.

How Dark Should Maple Syrup Caramel Be?

This comes down to preference. Lighter caramel has delicate flavor while darker caramel is more bold and bitter. Some common caramel stages include:

  • Light amber – Slightly thickened and caramelized but still pourable
  • Medium amber – Noticeable caramel flavor, starting to coat the spoon
  • Dark amber – Rich caramel flavor, thick and sticky texture
  • Very dark – Intense roasted notes, very thick and tacky

Medium to dark amber is the most popular final stage. The maple syrup takes on a complex bittersweet flavor and a luscious thickened texture. Very dark can become quite bitter.

Can You Make Caramel with Maple Syrup?

Yes, you can absolutely make delicious caramel using 100% pure maple syrup. The key is cooking it to sufficiently high temperatures to initiate caramelization.

Maple syrup caramel has its own unique flavor compared to plain white sugar caramel. It will have rich maple undertones along with toasted, buttery caramel notes.

There are a few different ways to make maple syrup caramel:

Maple Caramel Sauce

  • Heat pure maple syrup in a saucepan until bubbling and thickened to your desired consistency.
  • Flavor with a pinch of sea salt to balance the sweetness.
  • Let cool and use as a sauce for ice cream, apples, pretzels, etc.

Maple Caramels

  • Heat maple syrup while adding cream until a firm ball stage.
  • Stir in butter and vanilla.
  • Pour into a pan and chill until set.
  • Cut into caramel squares and wrap in wax paper.

Salted Maple Caramel

  • Simmer maple syrup in a pan until thickened and golden brown.
  • Take off heat and whisk in cream and flaky sea salt.
  • Cool slightly before using in recipes or drizzling over treats.

The possibilities are endless when you incorporate caramelized maple syrup into desserts, candy, ice cream, fruit dishes, popcorn, sweet potato recipes, cocktails, sauces, and more. It adds a sweet tangy maple twist to everything.

What is the Difference Between Maple Syrup and Pancake Syrup?

Authentic maple syrup comes straight from the sap of maple trees. It is simply concentrated and boiled down into syrup form. Maple syrup contains no additives or artificial flavors/colors. It is graded by color and classified as Grade A Golden, Amber, Dark, etc.

Pancake syrup is an artificial syrup made from corn syrup with added sugars, preservatives, and artificial maple flavoring/coloring. It is significantly cheaper than real maple syrup. Brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth make popular pancake syrups.

Aside from being artificial, the main differences are:

  • Taste – Real maple syrup has a complex, rich maple flavor. Pancake syrup tastes very sweet but with weaker “maple” notes.
  • Consistency – Maple syrup has a thicker, viscous texture. Pancake syrup is thin, similar to corn syrup.
  • Color – Maple syrup ranges from golden to very dark amber. Pancake syrup is artificially colored brown.
  • Production – Maple syrup is boiled down from maple tree sap. Pancake syrup is made from corn syrup and artificial additives.
  • Nutrition – Maple syrup contains beneficial antioxidants and minerals like zinc and potassium. Pancake syrup has little to no nutritional value.

Maple syrup is the real, natural deal while pancake syrup is a highly processed fake alternative. When making caramel or other recipes, you want to use authentic maple syrup for the best flavor.

Maple Syrup vs. Honey

Maple syrup and honey are two popular natural sweeteners. How do they compare when making caramel?

Maple Syrup:

  • Made from boiled down maple tree sap
  • Distinct maple flavor
  • Approximately 60% sucrose
  • Caramelizes at 230-234°C (446-453°F)
  • Adds rich maple notes to caramel


  • Produced by bees from flower nectar
  • Unique honey flavor varies by region
  • Higher on the glycemic index
  • Caramelizes at around 180°C (356°F)
  • Adds floral sweetness to caramel

Both can be used to make delicious caramel. Maple syrup requires higher heat while honey caramelizes faster at lower temperatures. Choose based on your preference of flavor.

Storing Caramelized Maple Syrup

Caramelized maple syrup should be stored in a sealed glass jar or bottle. It can be kept refrigerated for 3-6 months. If not refrigerated, it keeps for 2-3 months in the pantry. Always use clean utensils when removing syrup as moisture and bacteria can contaminate the syrup. Refrigeration helps extend the shelf life.

If mold develops on the syrup’s surface, simply skim it off and heat the syrup to 180°F (82°C) for 5 minutes before using. This kills any spores. Discard the syrup if mold reappears or penetrates deep into the syrup.

For maximum freshness and flavor, use your homemade caramelized maple syrup within 3-4 months. Avoid freezing caramelized syrup as this can cause texture changes.


Maple syrup definitely can be caramelized to create a thick, rich maple caramel. By heating pure maple syrup to 230-234°C (446-453°F), the sucrose undergoes the Maillard reaction and breaks down into hundreds of smaller flavor compounds. This produces a complex maple caramel flavor and thick, viscous texture. Patience and care is needed when making maple syrup caramel as it requires higher temperatures compared to regular refined white sugar. The result is a delicious maple caramel that can be used as a sauce, for candy making, or to incorporate into all kinds of recipes. Caramelized maple syrup makes baked goods, ice cream, fruit, coffee, cocktails and more irresistible. Now that you know maple syrup can caramelize beautifully, the possibilities are endless!

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