Fake Maple Syrup Flavor: The Taste Test (Blech)

by Tig Tillinghast

This has to be categorized as taking one for the team. I was eager (at first) to test out three different fake maple syrup flavorings I ordered over the internet. But then I smelled them, and boy, it was a learning experience.

[The culprits]

Fake maple syrup is typically made with sugar, some sort of chemical thickener, and – here’s the key ingredient – a spice called fenugreek. Fenugreek is the Zelig of spices. In slightly different forms, concentrations and mixtures, it can serve as the key flavor of a spicy curry or taste and smell sort of like maple syrup. The likeness to maple syrup, though, is dependent on just the right concentration. Taking a taste of this flavoring in concentrated form is a nauseating experience. Worse, once you do this, any time you taste fake maple syrup, that too can become somewhat nauseating.

[Dried fenugreek seeds far, far from home]

I tasted the three of these bottles, and another one not shown, and I started to feel queasy. Only when I left the room, and could no longer imagine I smelled it, did I feel better. The fenugreek flavor, now seared into my mind, is what comes to my tongue first when tasting fake maple syrup products. This is not a desirable talent. My wife and I were recently at one of the nicer restaurants in Stowe, and I couldn’t eat but two or three spoonfuls of a maple syrup pudding that – to me – tasted like curry. My wife, it should be noted, thought the sugaring thing has finally cracked me and that I’ve become paranoid. That said, she declined to exchange her chocolate pastry with my choice.

People who don’t know maple syrup flavor well may confuse the taste and smell with maple syrup. New Yorkers have been doing this for years , living downwind from spice production facilities based in New Jersey.

For a future blog post, I’ve been collecting pricing data across the U.S. for maple syrup. Interestingly, when I call these stores, sometimes the clerk doesn’t know there’s a difference between “real maple syrup” and Aunt Jemima’s. When I wind up talking to one of these folks, I collect the fake maple syrup pricing data, and it’s proved rather interesting. The fake maple syrup costs about $28 per gallon. No one realizes that because it’s sold generally in 8.5 ounce or 12.5 ounce bottles. The real maple syrup typically sells in supermarkets and local stores for about $100 per gallon – again, that expensive due mostly to the small sizes offered for sale.

Someone buying one of these flavorings pictured above (the several I tested were pretty radically different from one another in flavor intensity and quality) could manufacture their own fake maple syrup for roughly $15 to $20 per gallon, depending on the type of non-maple sugar used. God save their souls.