People take their syrup very seriously. And in North America, maple—no matter if it’s pure Vermont, Aunt Jemima, or that slurry they serve at Waffle House—is the amber of the a.m, the official boiled-down sugar of breakfast. It has no equal.
Or so many think. But there’s another lesser-known liquid out there, a dark, sticky substance imbued with a subtle bittersweetness that pairs well with everything from pancakes and pastries without making anything soggy or soft. It’s called stroop and it can stand bottle-to-bottle with maple for syrup supremacy any day.
Before you start accusing me of breakfast blasphemy, let me explain. Stroop (rhymes with “rope”) is a syrup invented by the Dutch that features heavily in their morning cuisine. Made by boiling down fruit (most often apple, but pear is also common), the finished product is thick and sticky with a color and consistency similar to caramel. Unlike maple syrup, it’s used as a spread and comes in a carton or jar much like Nutella or apple butter. One of the most common brands is Timson, which can be found at any Dutch speciality store.
According to Jeff Keasberry, a blogger and author specializing in Indo-Dutch cuisine whose new cookbook “Indo Dutch Cooking Secrets,” is due out in October, stroop originated in the southern part of the Netherlands in the province of Limburg. It started out of necessity—as a way of making use of soon-to-spoil fruit—and quickly became a delicacy, used on bread, pastries, and in certain peasant dishes.
“Back in the day, every little village had their own stroop distillery,” he says. “And the connoisseurs, when they tasted it, would know exactly where it came from based on the flavor of the apples or pears, much like wine.”
Today, it’s a regular addition to the table. In the Netherlands, breakfast can often fall into that very nordic category of “stuff spread on toast” and, after an adhesive base of butter or margarine, stroop is often added to morning slices. The spread is also served on crepes, poffertjes (tiny pancakes) or, most commonly, pannekoken, a plate-wide pancake that’s thicker than a crepe but thinner than a standard buttermilk.
Perhaps the most well-known application of stroop is in the stroopwafel—but it actually contains a different syrup variation. Made from a pair of thin waffle cookies sandwiched together with syrup, the stroopwafel is a crunchy, sweet snack eaten all across the world. But the syrup in the pastry loses the fruit base in favor of more sugar. “The stroop used in a stroopwafel is caramelized sugar but harder and has different ingredients in it, like brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and vanilla,” says Keasberry. All things created equal the stroopwafel is a sweet not to be missed. It can be dunked, dipped or simply devoured in the most traditional way: by setting the cookie on top of your coffee mug and waiting for the steam to rise and every-so-slightly soften the syrup into a warm, gooey center.
Stroop is not beholden to breakfast. You’ll often find it accompanying fruit and cheese, as a chutney-like spread, and even, per Keasberry, as an addition to stews or heartier dishes. “It can be added to a risotto or pesto as well for just a hint of sweetness,” says Keasberry. “It’s quite versatile.”
Additional applications aside, why does stroop make a run for maple’s supremacy? Well, whether spread lightly on a piece of toast or shellacked on a pannekoken, stroop elevates ordinary fare without drastically changing texture or taste. Traditional maple syrup soaks into pancakes and french toast, altering their consistency and flavor. As it’s spreadable, stroop allows one to strike that perfect balance of flavor without fear of morphing your breakfast into sad syrup-laden sponges. In short, it enhances instead of overwhelming.
Breakfast is a meal of habit. And upon waking, it’s comforting to reach for something with which you have a familiarity. “I love stroop probably the most because it reminds me of my childhood,” Keasberry said, And many of us likely harbor similar feelings about that red-capped bottle of Aunt Jemima or beige jug of hometown sap. What you enjoy is a matter of personal preference. I’m not saying stroop is better than maple, but I do think there’s room on the table for both.