Which is better Quebec or Vermont Maple Syrup?
Sometime during mid-February and early March, while the nights are still cold and the days grow warmer, a clear liquid, which looks like water begins flowing from ‘tapped’ maple trees in eastern North America. The ‘sap’ from the trees, with just a hint of sweetness, flows into buckets or through extensive plastic tubing and then transported to what is called a sugar house. There it is carefully boiled down until all the water evaporates and it becomes the thicker, rich amber or golden delight we all love and know as Maple Syrup. It takes at least 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup – explaining why many call it ‘liquid gold’.
Soon the festivals and ‘sugaring off’ parties will begin at the Cabanes à Sucre or ‘Sugar Shacks’. Different qualities of maple syrup will be liberally poured over waffles, pancakes and fresh fruit, used in baked bean recipes or as glazes for meat or poultry, or even a little shot in an alcoholic drink. But the best delight is still found when it is poured over fresh snow, rolled up with a stick and enjoyed like a popsicle.
But where is the best maple syrup produced? The two top producers of syrup in the world are Quebec and Vermont, who could both claim being the best. So who gets the gold for their ‘liquid gold’? The Green Mountain State or La Belle Province?
Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, with over 90% of the syrup made in Canada tapped in the province. Last year Quebec produced a record 13.5 million gallons. Vermont, our neighbours just across the border, is second. Last year they produced a record 1.9 million gallons – and it might not seem like much in comparison, but their production has been growing steadily over the years. Quebec’s global share fell from a high of around 80% in 2003 to just over 70% last year – whereas in Vermont, production has more than doubled over the past decade. Is it because it tastes better than Quebec’s – or is it simply the economics of a growing industry, regulations and more trees being tapped?
Not all maple syrup is the same. There are many factors that can affect the taste of syrup; like the weather, the soil the trees grow in and their overall health. The sugar maple is the preferred tree that is tapped, but there is also the red maple, black maple, ash leafed maple and silver maple – but the sugar content of those is only about 1%, compared to the sugar maple at 2% which is far more desired. Then there is the experience, care and artistry of the people making it. It’s something like producing a fine wine, and not all are appreciated in the same way. Much depends on the taste buds of the consumer – and poorly produced maple syrup can sometimes taste bitter, metallic or musty.
There is also the grading system, with syrups labeled as ‘Grade A Fancy’, ‘Grade A Light Amber’ and ‘Grade B Medium’ or ‘Dark Amber’. Sounds confusing? Not really, it just depends on how strong a maple flavor you prefer and how you want to use it. Many people prefer a darker syrup for baking because of the stronger taste of maple that stands out, and a lighter syrup for dribbling on things like french toast, ice cream and even as a sweetener for coffee.
And when not overused, maple syrup also has many health benefits. It has better nutritional value than honey, white sugar and even brown sugar. It is an excellent source of manganese, riboflavin and zinc. Minerals found in maple syrup like magnesium, calcium and potassium have been shown to decrease the risk of hypertension or stroke – and the calories in maple syrup are lower than in corn syrup and honey.
If you haven’t already had the opportunity to compare both syrups to each other, next time you plan a visit to Vermont (or even parts of Maine and New Hampshire) why not take a moment to stop at a roadside stand or market and pick up a bottle or can of the same grade of your Quebec brand then decide for yourself which is better?
Personally, I like my maple syrup the Quebec way, especially when it is in season and fresh – dribbled on anything from scrambled eggs to pasta, in salad dressings (it works great with garlic) and even a drop or two in my oatmeal. I’ve tasted Vermont syrup many times and it is good, but perhaps it’s the Canadian in me (after all our flag features a maple leaf) but Quebec syrup wins hands down. It is all you will find on the shelves in our kitchen or in the refrigerator – where it can stay fresh for over three months, but never lasts long enough for us to find out if it does. (I must also confess to licking the spoon clean and even the plate once the crêpes are finished.)
Have you tried both syrups? Did you find one tastes better than the other? If so, let us know which syrup tickles your taste buds the most – or inventive ways on how you like to use the sweet ‘liquid gold’!