Maple Syrup Vs. Sugar: SPICEography Showdown

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Maple syrup and sugar are two sweeteners with very different characteristics that go beyond the obvious fact that one is liquid and the other granular. Is one sweeter? Can they substitute one for the other? We break it all down in another SPICEography Showdown.

Note: It is important to make the distinction that maple syrup is a different product from the maple-flavored corn syrup commonly used on pancakes. True maple syrup comes only from the boiled sap of maple trees. It’s what we compare here.

How does maple syrup differ from sugar?

Maple syrup differs from sugar most noticeably in their sweetness. Maple syrup can be as much as three times sweeter than sugar.

Other aspects of these sweeteners’ flavor profiles are different as well. Maple syrup has a rich and distinctive flavor that some liken to a blend of caramel, vanilla, and nuts. If you really want the maple flavor to stand out, use grade B maple syrup. The grade B stuff is darker and more flavorful than the grade A.

Refined white sugar is simply sweet, it is not meant to contribute anything to food aside from sweetness. Brown sugar is sweet with an element of molasses in the flavor profile. The intensity of the molasses note varies depending on the type of brown sugar. Darker brown sugar has more molasses. Lastly, maple syrup is slightly acidic while refined white sugar is not. 

Maple syrup causes baked goods to brown much faster than sugar; as a result, it is easier to burn items sweetened with maple syrup than those that contain sugar.

Can you use maple syrup as a substitute for sugar and vice versa?

Both maple syrup and sugar have sweetness in common, so either will sweeten a preparation; however, this does not mean that switching them out is ideal in all recipes. When using maple syrup in place of sugar, you will need to compensate for the additional sweetness and the fact that maple syrup browns more quickly.

To replace each cup of white sugar, your recipe will require about 3/4 cup of maple syrup. You should also bake it at a lower temperature — 25 degrees lower — to keep items that contain maple syrup from burning. Remember that maple syrup is a liquid and will throw off the wet-to-dry ingredient ratio in recipes for baked goods. When using it in place of sugar, reduce the other liquids by the amount of maple syrup that you are adding. If you are adding a cup of maple syrup, remove a cup of the other liquids. 

Because maple syrup is acidic, you may find that dishes do not rise the way they would with sugar. Add a small amount of baking soda — around a 1/4 teaspoon — to neutralize the acidity. 

When using sugar in place of maple syrup, you will need to need to compensate for its relative lack of sweetness. Add a full cup for every 3/4 cup of maple syrup. You will also need to add extra liquid to replace the maple syrup. For baked goods, you will need to increase the baking temperature by 25 degrees to get the dish to brown. 

When should you use maple syrup and when should you use sugar?

Use maple syrup wherever the maple flavor would be complementary to a dish. Add it to cakes, cookies and ice creams. It even works in barbecue sauces.

Use sugar if you want a dry sweetener with no flavor aside from sweetness; use brown sugar to get a molasses note along with the sweetness.