Maple Syrup Grades

Maple syrup is a popular fall flavor and a major part of the North American diet. It's used for everything from sweetening baked goods to topping off delicious pancake breakfasts. Although maple syrup is very popular, many people are unaware of the different grades of maple syrup and how important factors like taste and color are affected. Each grade has unique features, meaning different maple syrups are better used in different scenarios. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about maple syrup grades and how to use each type effectively:

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Maple Syrup Grades Video

Watch the video below to learn more about maple syrup grades!

What Are the Grades of Maple Syrup?

There are four grades of maple syrup: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. These grades are all harvested at different times of the maple syrup season, giving each grade unique features. Taste and color vary between grades, so it’s important to have a strong understanding of them all. Here are the different maple syrup grades you’ll encounter and the features that make each unique:

1. Golden Maple Syrup

Amber Maple Syrup

At the beginning of the season, Golden maple syrup is produced. Golden maple syrup is light and has a delicate taste, making it great for topping ice creams and other desserts. This type of maple syrup has a subtle maple flavor, so if you’re looking for strong maple flavoring you’re better off using a darker variety.

2. Amber Maple Syrup

Amber maple syrup is made towards the middle of the season, having a light amber color and medium-intensity maple taste. This grade is versatile, and many people believe it has the perfect balance of maple flavor. For this reason, Amber maple syrup is considered a go-to maple syrup variety, being perfect for topping pancakes and waffles with classic maple flavor.

3. Dark Maple Syrup

Towards the end of the maple syrup season, Dark maple syrup is produced. Dark maple syrup has a robust maple flavoring, making it perfect for those looking to add a lot of maple flavor to a dish. It might not have the subtle flavors that lighter varieties have, but this is a very popular grade due to its robust maple taste.

4. Very Dark Maple Syrup

Made at the conclusion of the season, Very Dark maple syrup is the darkest of all grades and has an intense maple flavor. Due to the strength of Very Dark maple syrup’s flavor, it is often sought after by those who love the taste of maple. The strong intensity of this grade’s flavor ensures the taste remains through cooking. For this reason, Very Dark maple syrup is the grade of choice when trying to add maple flavor during cooking and baking.

Maple Syrup Grades Explained

The biggest defining factor of a maple syrup grade is its color. The darker a maple syrup is, the stronger the syrup’s maple flavoring will be. Lighter-colored grades are better for toppings and confections due to their mild taste and texture, while darker grades are best for infusing lots of maple flavor into dishes.

Maple Syrup Flavor

Maple Syrup Color

The color of maple syrup is an easy tell of what grade the syrup is and should be the first thing you look for. Maple syrup's color is a clear indicator of how it will taste, which is why the grades are named after the different shades maple syrups can be. An expert should be able to tell how maple syrup tastes and is used just by examining the syrup’s color.

Maple Syrup Flavor

The flavor of a maple syrup grade is the other key distinguishing factor that sets it apart from other grades. If a maple syrup’s flavor and color don’t match, it will be graded as whatever is the darkest or strongest grade. For example, if a maple syrup had an amber color with a robust maple flavor, it would be graded as Dark.

Difference in Maple Syrup Grades

All grades of pure maple syrup are the same when it comes to maple sugar content, but they still taste different depending on when in the season it was made. Although some grades share similarities and can serve as substitutes for one another, each grade has its unique properties. Here are some of the most similar grades and how they differ from one another:

Amber vs Dark Maple Syrup

Dark vs Golden Maple Syrup

Amber and Dark maple syrup are similar in taste and color since they’re both made during the middle parts of the season. The key difference between the two is Amber is a little lighter than Dark maple syrup, having a less pronounced maple flavor. So if you're aiming to have more maple flavor show through in your recipes, you should utilize Dark maple syrup over Amber.

Golden vs Amber Maple Syrup

Golden and Amber are lighter grades, being made earlier on in the season. Golden maple syrup is a unique grade, having delicate and subtle hints of maple flavor. The delicate flavor of Golden maple syrup makes it a great topping for several food items, but its mild maple flavor won’t be noticeable if used in baking. On the other hand, Amber maple syrup’s rich flavor allows it to be used as both a topping and an ingredient in recipes.

Very Dark vs Dark Maple Syrup

Dark maple syrup and Very Dark maple syrup are both grades that have intense maple flavors. Very Dark maple syrup is primarily used in cooking and baking to add strong maple flavors to recipes. This grade isn’t often used as a topping due to its intense maple flavor, but Dark maple syrup is one of the most popular grades to top dishes off with. The robust flavor of Dark maple syrup isn’t overpowering like the Very Dark variety.

How is Maple Syrup Made?

Maple syrup is made through a complicated process involving harvested maple sap. First, maple trees are tapped to produce maple sap, which is later boiled to make maple syrup. On average, you need around forty gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is boiled and becomes maple syrup when its sugar content is around 66 percent.

When Is Maple Syrup Season?

Maple syrup season typically falls between February and April. Fluctuations in temperature can cause the season to start or end ahead of schedule, but you’ll see almost all maple syrup be made during this time frame. Maple syrup season happens at this time because as the temperature begins to warm in late winter and early spring, maple sap begins to flow easier through trees. Once the sap is able to be collected, it can then be used to create maple syrup.

International Maple Syrup Institute

The current system of four grades of maple syrup was implemented by the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI). Previously, grades were broken into five categories. In 2015, the USDA adopted the new grading system to streamline the terminology and clarify misunderstandings buyers may be confused about. Although the old system is rarely used, you may come into contact with some grades from the previous system. Here are some of the old grades that you might encounter:

Fancy Maple Syrup

Fancy maple syrup is a grade that is almost identical to the current system’s Amber grade. This grade is very light with a delicate taste. The name Fancy maple syrup was retired due to its confusing name, as the new system has a much more streamlined and clearly defined grading process.

Grade A Medium Amber Maple Syrup

You’ll find that Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup is very similar to the current system’s Amber grade. Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup is characterized by a light amber color and a rich taste, making it a versatile option. Under the previous name, a false representation that Grade A was a higher quality syrup than Grade B and C syrups was given off. Since maple syrup grades have nothing to do with the overall quality of the syrup, it’s understandable why this was confusing and eventually changed.

Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup

Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup

Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup is where the old system deviates from the new, as this grade can be considered close to both Amber and Dark Maple syrup under the new grading system. Stronger Grade A Dark Amber maple syrups resemble the current Dark Amber grade, while lighter Grade A Dark Amber maple syrups share similarities with the new system’s Amber grade.

Grade B Maple Syrup

Despite the name, Grade B maple syrup isn’t any worse quality than Grade A maple syrup. The only differences between the two are their different color and taste. Grade B maple syrup is darkly colored and has a strong maple flavor. When compared to the new system of grading, Grade B is similar to Very Dark maple syrup and the darker varieties of Dark maple syrup.

Grade C Maple Syrup

Grade C is the darkest and strongest of maple syrup varieties, often being used in baking and manufacturing. You’ll rarely see Grade C maple syrup in retail stores, as they are typically reserved for manufacturing maple-flavored candies. Under the new grading system, Grade C maple syrups would be considered the strongest of the Very Dark grade.

Understanding the different maple syrup grades is a requirement to effectively use maple syrup in your recipes and dishes. Failure to use the correct grades can result in maple flavor not coming through in bakes, or too much maple flavor coming through from a topping. Having a strong grasp on maple syrup grades allows you to take full advantage of the ingredient and utilize it in a variety of creative ways.

By Kevin Singhel
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.
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