Pecan syrup is a sweet, thick syrup made from the sap of pecan trees. It has a rich, nutty flavor and aroma similar to maple syrup, which is made from maple tree sap. Pecan syrup is popular in the Southern United States, where pecan trees grow abundantly.
How is pecan syrup made?
Making pecan syrup follows a process similar to making maple syrup. It starts by tapping into pecan trees and collecting the sap. Pecan trees are tapped in early spring when the sap starts flowing. A small hole is drilled into the trunk and a tap or spile is inserted to direct the sap into a collecting bucket or bag.
The pecan sap is clear and watery with a slightly sweet taste. It takes roughly 10 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of pecan syrup. The sap is boiled down over a fire or on a stove to evaporate the water content, leaving behind the concentrated sugars and flavors. As the sap boils, it thickens into syrup. Boiling times can vary from 1-8 hours depending on the water content of the sap.
Skimming away impurities from the sap as it boils helps clarify the final syrup. Once it reaches the desired thickness and sugar concentration, the syrup is removed from heat. The final pecan syrup is thick and viscous with a golden brown to dark brown color. It has a rich, toasted pecan flavor.
The main ingredients in pecan syrup are:
- Pecan tree sap – Provides the primary flavor and sugar content.
- Water – The majority of the sap is water that gets boiled off.
- Sugars – Such as sucrose, glucose and fructose naturally present in the pecan sap.
- Proteins and amino acids – Provide flavor compounds.
- Organic acids – Such as citric, malic and amber acids influence flavor.
- Minerals – Small amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Pecan syrup contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The only ingredients are those naturally present in the pecan tree sap.
On average, pecan syrup contains about 2/3 cup of sugar per cup (198 g per 244g), making it sweeter than maple syrup. The exact sugar concentration can vary depending on the pecan variety, time of season, and boiling process.
The sugars found in pecan syrup include:
- Sucrose – A disaccharide made of glucose and fructose molecules. It makes up the majority of the sugars.
- Glucose – A monosaccharide or simple sugar.
- Fructose – Another monosaccharide and simple sugar.
Sucrose splits into glucose and fructose during the boiling process. These natural sugars provide the sweetness and energy in pecan syrup.
Pecan syrup contains a variety of flavonoids that add to its flavor complexity. Flavonoids are compounds found in plants that have antioxidant properties. The main flavonoids in pecan syrup include:
- Epicatechin – Has a bitter, astringent taste.
- Catechin – Contributes a flavanol flavor.
- Rutin – Adds citrusy and fruity notes.
- Quercetin – Provides some bitterness.
These flavonoids develop during the heating process as the sap concentrates. They complement the nutty pecan flavor with layers of bitterness, astringency, and fruitiness.
The amino acid profile of pecan syrup includes:
- Glutamic acid – Adds an umami, savory taste.
- Aspartic acid – Contributes sweetness.
- Alanine – Has a slightly sweet taste.
- Glycine – Also tastes lightly sweet.
- Serine – Provides a mild sweetness.
Amino acids develop in pecan syrup during the boiling and concentration process through the Maillard reaction. This reaction between sugars and amino acids creates desirable flavors, aromas, and color compounds seen in cooked foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Pecan syrup contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, though not in high amounts. These include:
It also contains B vitamins like:
- Thiamin (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Pyridoxine (B6)
Additionally, it contains trace amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A in the form of carotenoids that provide antioxidant benefits.
Some other compounds that contribute to the flavor and nutrition in pecan syrup include:
- Organic acids – Such as malic, citric and fumaric acid.
- Phenolic compounds – Including hydrolyzable tannins that add bitterness.
- Phytosterols – Plant sterols with potential health benefits.
- Terpenes – Aromatic compounds that provide aroma.
The combination and concentrations of these various compounds determine the complex, signature flavor of pecan syrup.
Grades of Pecan Syrup
There are four main grades of pecan syrup that indicate color and flavor intensity:
|Fancy or Delicate Taste
|Very light color and delicate flavor from early season sap.
|Light to medium amber color with full-bodied, rounded flavor.
|Dark brown color and more robust, sharper taste.
|Strongest flavored syrup used commercially in food products.
Higher grades typically come from earlier sap flows and have a lighter, more delicate flavor. Lower grades come from late season sap and have a much darker color and bolder taste.
How Does it Differ from Maple Syrup?
While both maple syrup and pecan syrup start as tapped sap from trees and undergo a similar production process, there are some key differences between the two:
- Source – Maple syrup comes from any species of maple tree, while pecan syrup specifically comes from pecan trees.
- Sugar content – Pecan syrup tends to be sweeter, with about 2/3 cup sugar per cup versus maple syrup which has about 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar per cup on average.
- Flavor – Pecan syrup has a much more pronounced nutty, buttery, toasted flavor compared to the woody, earthy, caramel notes of maple.
- Uses – Due to its intense flavor, pecan syrup is used more as a topping drizzled over foods rather than as an all-purpose sweetener substitute for maple syrup.
- Price – Pecan syrup is more expensive than maple syrup, given the lower availability of pecan trees.
So in summary, pecan syrup has a more potent, rich pecan flavor with higher sugar content compared to the more versatile, ubiquitous maple syrup.
How to Store Pecan Syrup
To retain maximum flavor and shelf life, pecan syrup should be stored:
- In an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
- In the freezer for up to 1 year.
- In a cool, dark place like a pantry for up to 1 month.
The enemies of pecan syrup are air, light, and heat, which can cause it to lose volatile aromas and develop crystallization over time. Keeping pecan syrup sealed in a container in the fridge or freezer prevents this deterioration.
Pecan syrup may develop a layer of sediment at the bottom of the container during storage. This is normal. Simply warm the jar briefly before use to re-blend the sediment.
How to Use Pecan Syrup
Pecan syrup’s intensely nutty, buttery flavor profile makes it ideal for drizzling over finished dishes or incorporating into recipes for a flavor boost. Common uses for pecan syrup include:
- Drizzling over pancakes, waffles, French toast or oatmeal
- Using as a glaze for meat like chicken, pork or lamb
- Incorporating into salad dressings, sauces, and marinades
- Swirling into plain yogurt or ice cream
- Stirring into coffee or tea as a sweetener
- Drizzling on cornbread, biscuits, scones or muffins
- Using in holiday baked goods like pecan pie
- Whisking with vinegar and olive oil for a quick vinaigrette
- Brush on pie crusts before baking for extra flavor
Experiment with pecan syrup as a flavor booster in any dish that could benefit from a hit of nuttiness. Start with a small amount drizzled over individual servings, as a little pecan syrup goes a long way.
Pecan syrup has a number of potential health benefits. As a natural, minimally processed sweetener, it contains beneficial compounds not found in many refined sugars and syrups.
Pecan syrup contains a variety of antioxidant compounds like flavonoids, Vitamin C, and carotenoids. These antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals to reduce oxidative stress in the body.
Some research indicates that flavonoids and phenolic compounds in pecan syrup have anti-inflammatory properties that may lower inflammation in the body.
High in Magnesium
Pecan syrup provides moderate amounts of the mineral magnesium which supports nerve functioning, bone health, and heart health.
May Help Control Blood Sugar
The high concentration of antioxidants and presence of chiral compounds in pecan syrup may help reduce blood sugar spikes after meals.
However, it is still a calorie-dense sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation by those with blood sugar concerns.
Contains Beneficial Phytosterols
Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Downsides and Risks
While pecan syrup does contain some beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, there are some downsides to consider:
- Highly caloric – Since it is comprised mainly of sugars, pecan syrup is very high in calories and carbohydrates.
- May spike blood sugar – The high sugar content can rapidly raise blood glucose levels.
- Easy to overconsume – The sweet taste and thin viscosity make it easy to overdo pecan syrup.
- Expensive – It costs more than many other common sweeteners.
- Not heat stable – Pecan syrup can burn easily, so it’s not ideal for cooking or baking.
- Strong flavor – The robust nutty taste can overpower some recipes.
Those with diabetes or weight concerns should be mindful of portion sizes when using pecan syrup. Pregnant women should also be cautious, as it may pose risks if consumed in excess.
Pecan syrup is made from the concentrated, boiled down sap of pecan trees. It undergoes a process similar to making maple syrup but results in a thicker, sweeter syrup with a pronounced nutty pecan flavor. The main ingredients include the sugars, flavonoids, amino acids, and other compounds naturally found in pecan sap. Pecan syrup contains more sugar and stronger flavor compounds compared to maple syrup.
When stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer, pecan syrup can retain its signature flavor for months. It shines when used in small amounts as a finishing touch drizzled over foods like pancakes, meat, yogurt, or oatmeal. Pecan syrup provides some beneficial antioxidants and minerals but should be enjoyed in moderation due to its high sugar and calorie content.