Your Pantry Maple Syrup Is Probably Past Its Prime

Here's one thing that we can say about maple syrup with complete certainty — it's absolutely delicious. There's nothing better than drizzling it over warm pancakes, waffles, or French toast, cooking it into savory dishes like roasted vegetables, or baking it into all manner of desserts. But one area that's a little less certain is just how long it lasts. On the one hand, there's the official word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that gives pure maple syrup a finite shelf-life, and on the other hand, there's the actual maple industry producers claiming it will likely never go bad. 

According to the USDA, the government agency that regulates food quality and safety, unopened maple syrup can be stored for about one year. Once opened, maple syrup should be refrigerated — where it can also last for one year. This is in contrast to what many, if not most, sugarmakers (the term for those who make maple syrup) say about its expiration date — that when properly stored, there really isn't one. Their reasoning for this is that due to maple syrup's high sugar content, it is resistant to bacterial growth, much like honey, which actually really does not ever spoil. Unlike honey, natural maple syrup made without preservatives can grow mold. To reduce the likelihood of this happening, everyone agrees that opened containers belong in the fridge.

How long does maple syrup really last?

Unopened maple syrup is best stored in a cool, dry, and dark pantry. Glass containers are recommended over plastic, which can affect its color and taste. Many brands already come packaged in glass, and those that are in plastic can be transferred into glass, but you'll need to know a bit about sterile canning to do this correctly to avoid contamination. It's easier to just buy already sealed jars, like the varieties sold in cute glass bottles shaped like maple leaves. These usually come from Canada, which produces 85% of the world's supply, or Vermont, where 50% of the United States' stock is made.

Here's where the two roads diverge. The USDA says you've got one year before that unopened maple syrup in your pantry is past its prime. Maple farmers have treated it differently for generations however and insist it can be kept indefinitely when stored accordingly. They will also tell you that for longer-term storage, it can be frozen and will basically last forever. Freezing does not cause it to solidify — though it can thicken, but should remain pourable. 

After you've opened the container, most agree that maple syrup needs to be refrigerated. The USDA gives you one year from this point to use it all up before it's time to discard. We get to another crossroads here, with most maple dealers indicating that it can last for a much longer time once chilled.

Use it or lose it

Maple producers concede that while syrup probably won't spoil, it can eventually get moldy once it's been opened. They downplay any concern by explaining that due to high sugar saturation, mold will only appear on the top of the syrup, from where it can be safely skimmed off. To make the syrup, maple sap is cooked down until its sugar content reaches around 66%, which is what makes it so wonderfully sweet

 Sugarmakers say it's also why mold cannot thrive below the top layer that's exposed to air, and that any remaining worries can be assuaged by boiling the syrup to at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any remaining bacteria, then straining to remove impurities. While it's been done this way as far back as anyone remembers, it's important to note that the USDA does not provide any guidelines regarding maple mold or boiling safety. Even if you don't see mold, if your syrup tastes or smells weird, it's better to err on the side of caution and toss it. 

Your best bet is to use up your open containers within a reasonable amount of time, which, all things considered, shouldn't be too difficult given all the delightful things you can do with it. Bake it into maple-bourbon sweet potato pie for a boozy take on a classic fall treat that can be enjoyed at any time. Or for a unique salty-sweet breakfast, you can even cook poached eggs in boiling maple syrup.