Pure Vermont maple syrup.Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
There is no debate: pure maple syrup is delicious. The real question, especially among New Englanders, is how much maple syrup flavor is best — the lighter or stronger varieties? This, of course, is a matter of personal taste, but to know you’re getting the right level of maple intensity, you’ve got to know which grade to buy. Not sure? Our guide to maple syrup grades is here to help.
Before 2014, pure maple syrup was graded using three letters — A (light), B (dark), and C (very dark, and only sold commercially). Perhaps confused by their days in school, this system led many people to believe that Grade A maple syrup was somehow more refined and of a higher quality than Grades B and C. In fact, the quality of the syrups was exactly the same.
The only differences in the grades of maple syrup are their color and taste. Syrup made from sap collected early in the season has a lighter color, while syrup made later in the season, when the weather is warmer, is darker. The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor.
In 2014, Vermont (the state with the highest production rate of maple syrup) introduced new, less confusing guidelines for maple syrup grading. In short, all syrups would be lettered “A,” but with more descriptive names.
In 2015, the Vermont system was officially adopted by the USDA, meaning you should now expect to see many maple syrup producers changing their labels. Here’s a guide to the four new maple syrup grades, along with their “old” names.
OLD: “Fancy” or “Vermont Fancy”
NEW: Grade A | Golden Color and Delicate Taste
This is the lightest of the new maple syrup grades and highly recommended for drizzling over waffles, pancakes, or ice cream.
OLD: Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber
NEW: “Grade A | Amber Color and Rich Flavor”
This grade of maple syrup is a little more flavorful and works well when cooking and baking.
OLD: Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B
NEW: “Grade A | Dark Color and Robust Flavor”
This grade of maple syrup is even stronger in flavor and is best used for recipes that require a heavy maple flavor.
OLD: Grade C
NEW: “Grade A | Very Dark and Strong Flavor”
This grade of maple syrup is very strong, and probably best used as a substitute for molasses and for making maple flavored candies.
Do you approve of the new system for maple syrup grades? Which grade is your favorite?
And now that you have a guide to maple syrup grades and can purchase the correct variety for what you’re looking for, we think it’s the perfect time to try some of our favorite maple syrup recipes.
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.