What’s the difference between puremade syrup and regular syrup?

There are some key differences between pure maple syrup and regular pancake syrup that are important to understand if you want to use the best ingredients in your recipes. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how pure maple syrup and regular syrup are made, examine their nutritional profiles, compare their flavors, and outline which types are best for everything from pouring over pancakes to using in baking projects.

How is Pure Maple Syrup Made?

Let’s start by looking at how pure maple syrup is made. Pure maple syrup comes straight from maple trees and is made by boiling down the sap from sugar maple trees. The process begins in late winter/early spring when maple syrup producers drill small holes into mature maple trees and insert a tap, allowing the sap to drip out into buckets. The sap is clear and almost tasteless when it first comes out of the tree. Maple trees store starch and sugar in their roots and trunks during the winter months which gets converted into sweet sap that rises and flows out of taps when daytime temperatures start to go above freezing. The sap flows most freely on mild days when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day. This fluctuation creates pressure that makes the sap flow out of taps. Sugar maple trees have higher concentrations of sugar than other maple tree varieties, which is why they are used to make maple syrup. It can take around 40 gallons of maple sap to produce just 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. The exact ratio depends on the sugar content of the sap during that season.

Once enough sap is collected, it gets boiled down to evaporate off the water. As the water evaporates, the sugar concentration rises, transforming the sap into syrup. It is boiled until it reaches a sugar content of around 66%. The syrup also develops caramel notes and takes on its familiar amber color the longer it boils. Pure maple syrup is simply the concentrated, boiled down sap with no other ingredients added. Boiling is usually done using a wood fire which can also impart subtle smoky hints. The entire process takes place on maple farms and sugar shacks located near sugar maple forests in states like Vermont, New York, and others in New England and the Midwest. True maple syrup always comes directly from maple sap and never contains artificial colors, flavors, or additives.

How is Regular Syrup Made?

In contrast to pure maple syrup, regular pancake syrups are made from a variety of different sources and go through more extensive processing. Here are some of the most common ways regular syrup is made:

  • Corn syrup – Many regular syrups use corn syrup as a base which is made by processing cornstarch. The cornstarch gets broken down into glucose molecules that produce a thick, sweet syrup.
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – HFCS is also commonly used in regular syrups. It is derived from corn syrup but goes through an additional enzymatic process to convert some of the glucose into fructose to increase the sweetness.
  • Caramel coloring – Caramel coloring is added to regular syrups to produce the familiar brown hue that consumers expect from syrup.
  • Cellulose gum or xanthan gum – These additives are used to thicken and stabilize regular syrup.
  • Artificial and natural flavors – Artificial or natural maple flavored extracts are often used to produce the maple taste.
  • Preservatives – Preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate can be added to extend the shelf life of regular syrups.

As you can see, most regular syrups start with a processed corn syrup base, rather than pure maple sap. Manufacturers then rely on chemical additives for coloring, flavoring, and thickening the syrup to imitate the properties of real maple syrup. The ingredients are mixed together in large production facilities and heavily processed before being bottled and shipped out to stores.

Nutritional Profile

One of the biggest differences between pure maple syrup and regular syrup is in their nutritional profiles. Because of the way it’s made, pure maple syrup retains many beneficial compounds from the maple sap, while regular syrup nutrition is primarily from added sugars.

Pure Maple Syrup Nutrition

Pure maple syrup provides these key nutrients:

  • Manganese – 37% DV per serving. This mineral is important for metabolism, bone health, and wound healing.
  • Riboflavin – 26% DV. Also called vitamin B2, riboflavin helps convert food into energy.
  • Zinc – 12% DV. Zinc boosts immunity and supports growth and development.
  • Magnesium – 11% DV. Magnesium is needed for energy production, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and more.
  • Calcium – 7% DV. This mineral strengthens bones and teeth and supports muscle function.
  • Potassium – 6% DV. Potassium helps control blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Maple syrup is about 2/3 sucrose, or table sugar. But it also contains beneficial compounds like:

  • Phenolic compounds with antioxidant abilities that may help combat diseases like cancer and diabetes.
  • Amino acids that form proteins and support the body’s tissues.
  • Over 100 different polyphenol compounds that act as antioxidants.

With a moderately low glycemic index of 54, pure maple syrup causes a slower rise in blood sugar than many other sweeteners. The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds found in pure maple syrup give it unique health benefits not found in regular syrup.

Regular Syrup Nutrition

In contrast, regular syrup nutrition primarily comes from added sugars:

  • Corn syrup and/or high fructose corn syrup provide most of the calories.
  • Minimal vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or beneficial plant compounds.
  • High glycemic index around 83, which causes a rapid spike in blood sugar.

The hyper-processed ingredients like corn syrup, artificial flavors, and food dyes found in regular syrup offer little to no nutritional value. Regular syrup is essentially pure concentrated sugar with a small amount of thickening agents to imitate syrup texture.

Flavor Differences

When it comes to taste, pure maple syrup also stands out from regular syrup:

  • Maple flavor – Real maple syrup has a complex, rich maple taste derived from the natural compounds in maple sap. Regular syrups only mimic maple flavors using artificial or natural maple extract.
  • Mouthfeel – Pure maple syrup has a silky, smooth mouthfeel. Regular syrup is often thinner with a artificial texture.
  • Sweetness – Maple syrup provides a nicely balanced, not-overpowering sweetness. Regular syrup tends to be extremely sweet from added sucrose and corn syrup.
  • Caramelized notes – When boiled down, maple syrup develops a complex caramel-like taste. Regular syrups try to imitate this with caramel coloring.
  • Finishing flavors – Subtle notes like vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves can be tasted in pure maple syrup. Regular syrups lack these finishing flavor notes.

Maple syrup’s flavor is hard to mimic with artificial flavors and dyes. The real thing provides a syrup that is rich and complex, while still letting the flavors of foods like pancakes or waffles shine through. Regular syrup tends to overpower with its cloying sweetness and artificial maple notes.

Grades of Maple Syrup

There are several grades of pure maple syrup that indicate how dark colored and flavorful the syrup is:

Grade Description
Grade A Light Amber Very light golden color with delicate maple flavor
Grade A Medium Amber Slightly darker color with a richer maple taste
Grade A Dark Amber Robust, molasses-like flavor from extended boiling
Grade B Very dark and concentrated from end-of-season sap

The darker grades of maple syrup have stronger maple flavors and are often used for baking or flavoring other foods. Lighter syrups are better for drizzling directly onto foods like pancakes. All grades provide the same nutrition, just with subtle flavor differences.

Cost Differences

One of the biggest differences between pure maple syrup and regular pancake syrup comes down to cost. Pure maple syrup is tapped directly from trees and boiled down into an all-natural syrup. This requires more effort and labor compared to making processed regular syrup from corn syrup and chemical flavorings. On average, you can expect pure maple syrup to cost around $12-15 per pint bottle. In comparison, brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth’s regular syrup generally cost $2-3 per bottle.

Here’s a breakdown of the average costs:

  • Pure maple syrup – $0.70-$1.00 per oz
  • Regular pancake syrup – $0.10-$0.30 per oz

Maple syrup can cost around 3-10x more than regular syrup. But keep in mind you tend to use less maple syrup compared to regular syrup thanks to its more concentrated flavor and sweetness. Many people find maple syrup worth the higher cost given its all-natural production, superior nutrition, and complex flavor that regular syrup can’t truly replicate.

Which is Better for Pancakes and Waffles?

When it comes to topping favorites like pancakes, waffles, and French toast, pure maple syrup is usually considered the best choice. Here’s why:

  • Maple flavor – You’ll get that authentic, rich maple taste that perfectly complements pancakes.
  • Not overpowering – Pure maple syrup doesn’t overpower the dish with its sweetness.
  • Smooth texture – Maple syrup has a silky texture that evenly coats each bite.
  • Moisture retention – Dishes stay moist instead of drying out.
  • Better nutrition – You’ll get important minerals like manganese, zinc, calcium, and potassium.

In comparison, regular syrup is often too thin, sweet, and artificial tasting for pancakes and waffles. The processed syrup fails to properly enhance the flavor. Maple syrup also pairs better with mix-in ingredients. Fruit compotes, nuts, and whipped cream will complement maple syrup instead of clashing with artificial flavors. Drizzling grade A amber maple syrup over a stack of flapjacks is hard to beat!

Which is Better for Baking and Cooking?

For baking, maple syrup works excellently in place of other liquid sweeteners. Thanks to maple syrup’s moisture, sweetness, and flavor, it can replace sugar or corn syrup in recipes for:

  • Breads
  • Muffins
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pies
  • Granola
  • Oatmeal

Darker, more robust maple syrup grades are ideal for baking. When heated, maple syrup provides richer caramelized flavor than regular syrup. For sauces and glazes, maple syrup can also replace corn syrup or honey.

However, regular syrup is not always an ideal substitute for maple syrup in recipes. Because it is thinner with a more artificial flavor, baked goods may turn out too dense or overwhelmingly sweet with regular syrup. Stick with pure maple syrup for the best results when cooking and baking.

Are There Any Downsides to Maple Syrup?

There are a couple potential downsides of using pure maple syrup vs regular syrup:

  • Higher price – Maple syrup’s cost can be up to 10x higher than regular syrup.
  • Not as shelf-stable – Because it does not contain preservatives, maple syrup has a shorter shelf life of around 1 year when properly stored.
  • Potential formaldehyde – Trace amounts of formaldehyde can naturally form in maple syrup through heating and storage. However, levels are very low and not a concern for health.

Aside from those factors, pure maple syrup is considered superior in nutrition, flavor, and benefits compared to regular syrup with few drawbacks when used moderately.

Is Maple Syrup Healthier Than Honey or Agave?

Maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar are often compared as alternatives to regular sugar or corn syrup. Here’s how maple syrup stacks up to honey and agave:

Maple Syrup vs. Honey

  • Maple syrup has a slightly higher antioxidant content and lower glycemic index.
  • Honey provides unique antibacterial benefits not found in maple syrup.
  • Both contain trace nutrients and minerals unlike plain sugar.
  • Maple syrup has a more complex flavor than the single floral note of honey.

Maple Syrup vs. Agave

  • Maple syrup contains at least some fiber and minerals, whereas agave nectar is pure sugar.
  • Maple syrup has a lower glycemic index (54) than agave (70).
  • Agave is thinner and absorbs into foods more easily, but has a more neutral flavor.

Overall, maple syrup provides unique benefits compared to other sugar alternatives. While no sugar is truly “healthy” given its high calorie count, maple syrup does offer some nutrition and antioxidants you won’t find in processed sugars.


When it comes to topping your Sunday morning pancakes or sweetening your baked goods, pure maple syrup is usually the best choice over regular syrups. Thanks to maple syrup’s all-natural production, beneficial nutrients, lower glycemic index, and signature maple flavor, it makes for a tastier and slightly healthier option. Regular syrup relies on corn syrup and artificial ingredients to mimic pure maple syrup, but can’t truly equal maple syrup’s flavor or nutrition.

While more expensive, maple syrup’s taste and quality make it worth the cost for those that want to skip processed syrups. Drizzle the real thing over your flapjacks and use it to enhance recipes for a natural sweetener that delivers wholesome nutrition and decadent maple flavor.

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