What is the difference between maple syrup and maple extract?

Maple syrup and maple extract are two popular maple products used as sweeteners and flavorings. Though they both come from the sap of maple trees, there are some key differences between pure maple syrup and maple extract.

In the opening section, we’ll provide quick answers to some common questions about maple syrup versus maple extract:

Quick Answers

What is maple syrup?
Maple syrup is made by boiling down the sap of sugar maple trees to create a thick, sweet syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.

What is maple extract?
Maple extract is made by distilling maple sap further and concentrating the flavor. Maple extract contains no actual maple syrup.

How are they made differently?
Maple syrup is made solely from boiled maple sap. Maple extract is made by distilling maple sap into a clear liquid with a strong maple flavor.

Are they interchangeable?
No, maple syrup and maple extract cannot be substituted for each other in recipes. Maple syrup provides sweetness while maple extract provides just flavor.

Which is more expensive?
Maple extract tends to be more expensive ounce for ounce than pure maple syrup.

Which has more uses?
Maple syrup can be used as a pancake/waffle topping, sweetener, and recipe ingredient. Maple extract is mostly used for flavoring.

Now we’ll dive deeper into explaining the differences between these two popular maple products.

How Maple Syrup Is Made

Pure maple syrup comes straight from the sap of sugar maple trees. Sugar maples are tapped early in the sugaring season, around late winter to early spring depending on climate. Holes are drilled into the trunks and tubing or buckets are attached to collect the flowing tree sap.

Maple sap looks like water but contains about 2% sugar as well as minerals and other compounds that provide the faint sweet taste. An average maple tree will produce 10-15 gallons of maple sap per season.

Maple sap is boiled down over many hours to evaporate off the water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce just 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. As water evaporates, the sugar becomes concentrated into syrup.

It’s this long boiling process that transforms the subtle-tasting sap into the familiar thick, viscous, and sweet maple syrup. The syrup is then filtered and graded based on color and flavor.

Maple syrup can be broken down into various grades:

Grade Color Flavor
Grade A Light Amber Light golden color Delicate taste
Grade A Amber Slightly darker color Rich maple flavor
Grade A Dark Amber Very dark color Robust maple flavor
Grade A Very Dark Nearly black color Strongest maple flavor

The lighter syrups are produced earlier in the sugaring season. As the weather warms, chemical changes cause the sap to produce darker syrups with bolder maple flavor. All grades provide the classic maple taste, just in varying intensities.

Maple syrup is typically sold in grades based on color. Lighter “fancy” syrup is prized for delicacy, while darker syrup provides richer maple flavor. From sap to bottle, real maple syrup is an all-natural product with no additives or artificial colors or flavors.

How Maple Extract Is Made

Maple extract starts out the same way by tapping maple trees and collecting the sap. However, instead of boiling down the sap into syrup, maple extract goes through an additional process of distillation.

First, the maple sap is boiled to evaporate off much of the water content. Then, it is distilled to isolate and concentrate the water-soluble flavor compounds. Distillation results in a clear, colorless maple extract with an intensely concentrated flavor.

While it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, it takes even more sap, about 60-100 gallons, to make 1 gallon of maple extract.

The extract also contains alcohol which helps to preserve the shelf life. The distillation process removes all sugars and macronutrients, leaving just the strong maple taste behind.

Maple extract contains no actual syrup, which is why it can’t be substituted into recipes for maple syrup. It provides only flavor, not sweetness.

Some imitation maple extracts contain no real maple at all. Artificial maple extract is made from a chemical blend of fenugreek, anise oil, and coumarin to mimic maple’s distinctive taste. Always check the label for “natural maple extract” to ensure you get real maple flavor.

Maple Syrup Nutrition Facts

In addition to its signature maple taste, pure maple syrup also contains beneficial nutrients. Maple syrup provides these vitamins and minerals:

1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup Amount % Daily Value
Calories 52 3%
Total Carbohydrates 14 g 5%
Sugars 12 g
Calcium 14 mg 1%
Iron 1 mg 6%
Magnesium 6 mg 1%
Manganese 2 mg 8%
Potassium 57 mg 1%

Maple syrup contains beneficial nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and a small amount of potassium. The nutrients come straight from the sap of maple trees.

In particular, maple syrup contains manganese and zinc which act as antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals and protect cells. It also provides polyphenols and phenolic compounds that have antioxidant effects.

Compared to regular white sugar, maple syrup offers a more nutritious sweetener option when you want a touch of sweetness. Use it sparingly to limit sugar intake, but take advantage of its unique flavor and nutrition.

Maple Extract Nutrition Facts

Unlike maple syrup, maple extract does not contain any beneficial nutrients, vitamins or minerals.

Through the distillation process, all of the sugars, macronutrients, and micronutrients are removed from the maple sap. The only thing left in maple extract is concentrated flavor.

This lack of nutrients is why maple extract cannot be substituted for real maple syrup in recipes. Maple extract will provide only maple flavor, without any nutrition.

Maple Syrup vs. Maple Extract Flavor

Maple syrup and maple extract both provide the distinctive maple taste, but in different forms.

Maple syrup gets its flavor directly from maple sap that is gently boiled down into syrup. It provides a balanced, rounded maple taste ranging from delicate to robust depending on grade. All grades provide sweetness in addition to maple flavor.

Maple extract concentrates maple flavor through an extensive distillation process. The flavor is very potent and intense. Since it contains no actual syrup or sugar, maple extract does not taste sweet on its own. It provides just powerful, concentrated maple taste.

Maple extract allows cooks and bakers to get strong maple flavor without adding more liquid or altering texture. A little bit of extract goes a long way.

Maple Syrup Substitutes

In a pinch, there are a few decent maple syrup substitutes to consider:

– Honey – Honey provides sweetness and its own distinct flavor. Use 3/4 cup honey for every 1 cup maple syrup.

– Agave nectar – Agave nectar is about 1.5 times sweeter than maple syrup. Use 2/3 cup agave for 1 cup maple syrup.

– Brown sugar – Mix 1 cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup water or milk and heat to dissolve. Provides sweetness but not maple flavor.

– Maple sugar – Granulated maple sugar can be dissolved in water for a syrup substitute.

– Maple extract – Adds maple flavor but not sweetness or texture.

However, nothing can really replicate the exact flavor and texture of real maple syrup. For the best results, use real maple syrup.

Maple Extract Substitutes

For recipes that call for maple extract, the only reasonable substitution is:

– Maple syrup – Use 1/4 cup real maple syrup for every 1 teaspoon of maple extract. Provides maple flavor and sweetness.

No other extracts or flavors can truly mimic the flavor of real maple extract. Imitation maple extracts made from a lab chemical blend will result in inferior flavor. Always use real maple extract or maple syrup when possible.

Maple Syrup vs. Maple Extract Price

Maple syrup and maple extract are priced very differently due to production methods.

Pure maple syrup is more expensive to produce because of the large amount of sap required and the long boiling process. On average, one gallon of maple syrup costs $40-50.

Comparatively, maple extract takes more maple sap but less active work to produce through distillation. Maple extract costs approximately $1-2 per ounce.

When you do the math, an ounce of maple extract costs over 5 times more than an ounce of maple syrup. Maple extract provides a more concentrated flavor for significantly higher price.

However, keep in mind that because extract is very potent, you need much less of it. A 2 ounce bottle of maple extract will last a long time and end up costing less than constantly buying new maple syrup.

For occasional use, maple syrup generally provides more value. But if you use maple flavor frequently, maple extract can be more cost effective long-term.

How To Use Maple Syrup

There are endless ways to use pure maple syrup beyond just pancakes and waffles:

– Sweeten tea, coffee, oatmeal
– Make maple vinaigrettes and sauces
– Brush on proteins before grilling or roasting
– Mix into baked goods like muffins, breads, cookies
– Stir into yogurt, cottage cheese, or oatmeal
– Blend into smoothies
– Make maple candy by boiling to soft ball stage
– Swirl into ice cream, milkshakes, whip cream
– Use in cocktails like an Old Fashioned or maple sour

Take advantage of maple syrup’s flavor and sweetness in any recipe by substituting it 1:1 for white, brown, or coconut sugar. Reduce liquid in baking recipes by 3 tablespoons per 1/4 cup syrup used.

How To Use Maple Extract

Because it’s incredibly concentrated, you need very little maple extract to provide big maple flavor:

– Add 1/4 tsp in muffins, cakes, breads, pancakes
– Stir 1/8 tsp into frosting, buttercream
– Mix 2 drops into whipped cream
– Add 1/2 tsp to waffle or pancake batter
– Flavor milkshakes with 1/4 tsp extract
– Stir 1/2 tsp into oatmeal
– Make maple martinis with 1/4 tsp extract
– Fold 1/4 tsp into cheesecake filling
– Add 2-3 drops maple extract to coffee

Too much extract can overpower a recipe. Start with small amounts and add more to taste. You can always add more extract but it’s hard to fix an over-flavored dish.

Maple Syrup vs. Maple Flavored Syrup

Don’t confuse real maple syrup with artificial “pancake syrup” products.

100% pure maple syrup comes straight from maple sap and contains no additives. It will be graded by color and labeled as real maple syrup.

Maple flavored syrups like Mrs. Butterworth’s are highly processed corn syrup with caramel color, preservatives, and artificial or “natural” maple flavoring. They do not contain any real maple syrup.

Read labels closely to ensure you get real maple syrup for the full maple taste and nutrition benefits.

Storing Maple Syrup vs. Maple Extract

Because of their different compositions, maple syrup and maple extract have different storage requirements.

Unopened maple syrup can be stored in a cool, dark pantry for up to 2 years. After opening, store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Keep tightly sealed, as maple syrup easily absorbs other flavors.

Maple extract’s high alcohol content allows it to be stored at room temperature indefinitely. An unopened bottle will stay fresh for 3-4 years. Once opened, maple extract will keep for 1-2 years in the pantry.


Maple syrup and maple extract both provide signature maple flavor, but are produced differently and have distinct uses.

Maple syrup is made by boiling down pure maple sap into a sweet liquid syrup that also contains vitamins and minerals. Maple syrup can be used as a topping and sweetener in addition to providing maple taste.

Maple extract is made through an extensive process of distilling maple sap down into a clear, concentrated liquid with an intense maple flavor. Since it contains no actual syrup or sugar, maple extract cannot be substituted for maple syrup in recipes.

While they taste similar, the two work differently in recipes. Maple syrup sweetens and flavors; maple extract just flavors. Knowing the distinct uses of each allows you to use them properly for the best results.

So next time a recipe calls for maple flavor, make sure to use maple syrup or maple extract according to what’s required. Your muffins, cakes, coffees and cocktails will taste like maple heaven.

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