It used to be that you could find two grades of maple syrup on the shelves: grade B and grade A. However, in 2015 the USDA revised its standards to match those of Vermont. In place of the old system of Grades A, B and C/commercial, there are four levels of Grade A now available.
So where before, the question was what did the different grades of maple syrup mean, now, it is a question of what is the difference between lighter-colored and darker-colored maple syrups?
The difference in the colors of maple syrup have to do with when the syrup is tapped, which in turn affects the flavor of the syrup. As the spring warms up, the sap coming from the trees produces less sugar, and becomes darker in color. Generally, the darker the color of the syrup, the later in the season it was harvested, and the stronger its flavor.
The different colors do NOT mean that one is more refined or more processed than another. All pure maple syrups are unrefined, and contain beneficial nutrients, including postassium, mangnesium, and iron.
And PLEASE don’t confuse maple syrup with Aunt Jemima’s or some other table syrup. Those are usually made with corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and other flavorings. Carefully look at the labels if you are not sure if it is 100% pure maple syrup, as it should be easy to receognize. It is unlawful to use the terms “maple syrup” or “maple sugar,” in any manner, to describe an artificially flavored product.
Grade A: Golden Color
This syrup is the first syrup of the season to be tapped – usually sometime in late February and in colder climates. It’s the lightest in color and the most delicate in flavor.
Grade A: Amber Color
Formerly: Grade A
This syrup is slightly darker than the above. It has a smooth maple taste that comes from harvesting it mid-season with the warming of the temperatures.
Grade A: Dark Color
Formerly: Grade A or Grade B
This syrup is fuller bodied than the above two, with a more robust and deeper flavor. The sugar content of the sap has dropped by now so, it takes more sap to make a gallon of syrup; which also contributes to the darker color and stronger flavors.
Grade A: Very Dark Color
Formerly: Grade C/ Commercial
With the new grading system, this grade of syrup which was only sold commercially to candy companies and the such, is now available for purchase on the shelves. Produced at the end of the tapping season, this syrup has a very robust and strong maple flavor.