Syrup and honey

After spending two weeks in the U.S. for Thanksgiving, I’m finally back in Colombia… a little fatter, a little poorer, and a little out of practice Spanish-wise. Such is life. I’m forgoing a Friday Five post because I would be hard pressed to come up with five words I’ve learned recently, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave you hanging. What’s on our plate today? Maple syrup.

It doesn’t get any more delectable than real maple syrup, does it? I bought four bottles of it in the U.S. to bring back as gifts for my boyfriend’s family. One sip of that savory amber ambrosia and they’d surely be smitten. But how to translate it?  I had all the “right” words already floating around my head– maple, check (arce); syrup, check (jarabe, sirope). Unfortunately, though, I soon learned that using these words here would only lead to blank stares. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that maple syrup is very uncommon here, as are pancakes, and we don’t usually have words at the ready for what’s not a part of our reality. I would never look for recognition when talking about maple syrup (unless the person had lived in the U.S. or Canada at some point); I just wanted to be able to explain what it is. What was a gringa to do?

Arce won’t get you very far because they don’t grow here. Jarabe is usually used for cold and cough syrups and their ilk. Sirope was met with total incomprehension and seems to be a Spanish (as in Spain) thing. Three strikes and it seemed I was out. My boyfriend recommended I just go with miel. Honey it is not, but it seemed like the most natural option. Of course, I explained that it’s actually savia, y que la drenan de los árboles, blah blah blah, and I was finally met with some flickers of understanding. Pero pruébelo, pruébelo ya, ni importa cómo se llame… at the end of the day, there’s no need to split hairs over what to call it. Just get them to try it, and all linguistic handwringing will cease.

By the way, later on at the store, I looked for it out of curiosity and found (an artificial version of) MIEL DE MAPLE. Good enough for me. Case closed.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ll go ahead and tell you that honey is usually referred to as miel de abeja. Bee honey. To, you know, differentiate it from all those other honeys out there. No, seriously–you just learned a new one.

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this word? How have you heard maple syrup translated? Have you ever had it served to you in Latin America? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?


21 responses to “Syrup and honey

  1. In a very juvenile way, I find Maple & Arce very easy to remember as I don my faux-Irish accent and say “ass” like they do in Dublin.


  2. Very interesting, I remember when I went to thailand and found out they don’t have lemons only limes. Trying to explain a lemon without an actual word for it is difficult.


    • Ooh, I’m sure you had lots of food translation fun in Thailand. They don’t have lemons here either. But do you really think there’s a difference? Sometimes I think it might just be in our heads. The word for the limes is limones, though.


  3. tal vez almibar? when we make sirups, like out of fruit for raspados, that is sometimes what word we use. Pero soy texicana, y aqui comemos panques, normalmente con cajeta, o con jalea y lechera.


    • Mm, con cajeta– eso sí suena delicioso! Qué pena por mi ignorancia, pero qué quiere decir texicana? Que vives en Texas y que tienes ascendencia mexicana? Con “pancakes” me refiero a lo que se llama “hot cakes” en México. Te lo pregunto porque se me extraña eso lo de la cajeta y jalea y lechera– no sé cómo sea en México (ni tampoco en Texas), pero normalmente se les echa encima “miel de maple” y ya. Sí, creo que almíbar se refiere al líquido de las frutas mezclado con azúcar. Pero quién sabe, tal vez se use así en alguna parte. Gracias por el comentario :)


      • Sip, panques son iguales de los hotcakes en Mexico. usamos los dos, creo que “panqué” viene del ingles. Pero normalmente en Mexico los hacemos de maseca, ni harina de trigo. Y es muy común en ambos lados comerlos con cajeta o con mermelada/jalea y lechera. Pruebalo, imagino que te gustaría.
        también es cierto los tejana vivimos en texas pero somos de mexico, desde hace siglos o mas recientemente. muchos, como yo, pasan muchos la frontera o vivir por allá y aquí.


  4. In case you ever had to try and explain “maple syrup” to a Polish speaker, here it’s called “syrop klonowy”, which is actually a direct translation. Like in Spanish and in English, Polish “syrop” can mean a medicine, but it’s also used for the type of syrup you add to water or bevarages.
    Btw. I’ve also heard maple syrup being called “golden syrup”. Are you familiar with that?


  5. Que interesante, y que buena entrada.

    I was in a Mexican grocery store today and saw “Miel con Panal”. Syrup (honey) with a honey comb. They sell it at WalMart too, you can see a picture of it here:

    I thought I might see some other syrups and see how they were translated, but all the other syrups were just American brands.

    Anyway, great post, thanks!


  6. The first time I ever saw maple syrup, all I could think of was melado (or melao). Melado is a sugar or panela based fluid common in sugar cane regions like Valle del Cauca. It is used as ingredient for dulces and tortas, and its consistency and darkness can vary, which means that sometimes melado looks exactly like maple syrup. This case might be closed, but not your visits to the supermarket. So next time there, introduce yourself to melado.


    • Hi Juan,

      Thank you for the informative and kindhearted comment. No, I don’t know anything about melao, but I am familiar with the song Melao de caña. I will keep an eye out for it at the store! It’s hard to imagine that it could be more delicious than maple syrup (I’m quite biased, you see), but I’m sure it’s tasty.


  7. Hello Vocabat,
    De nada. I am sure you are sweeter than a bowl containing a combination of almibar, melado and maple syrup.


  8. As a french toast and waffle addict myself, I’ve discovered that bringing back maple sugar and then turning it into syrup leaves me with a great supply and no fear of it leaking around my bag. But yes, nobody here understaaaands.

    I guess you only need to specify “honey from bees” if you decide to call syrup “maple honey”…


  9. You would think that, wouldn’t you? And yet I hear miel de abeja all the time, and I know people aren’t thinking “instead of that maple stuff!” in their heads. But yes, you are right on about the need. Regardless, you also hear “miel.”

    Didn’t know about maple sugar– intriguing. Thanks for the tip!


  10. Wikipedia’s today’s featured article :D


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