What are the Four Grades of Maple Syrup?
Vermont maple syrup grades are based on color and flavor. The sugar content is always the same in the finished product, but they can look quite different from each other.
There are four types of Grade A Vermont maple syrup:
- Golden & Delicate (also known as Fancy - click to learn more)
- Amber & Rich
- Dark & Robust (formerly known as Grade B)
- Very Dark & Strong (formerly known as Grade C) (click to learn more)
The lightest three grades are typically sold for use in the home kitchen. While some love the darkest grade, it is often sent off to be used in commercial food applications like an ingredient in a sauce. In fact, prior to 2015 the darkest grade was called Grade C (or Commercial) and retail sales were not permitted. Fortunately, the international community realized that the darkest syrup is quite tasty and retail sales were permitted. It has proven to be quite popular for good reason.
Old vs. New Maple Syrup Grades
In 2015, the new syrup grading system was released and all of the grades became Grade A.. Fancy became Golden & Delicate, and Grade C became Very Dark & Strong.
Maple Syrup Color and Flavor
Note that each grade now has two descriptors: a color and a flavor.
Maple Syrup Color
Color is the primary factor when grading Vermont maple syrup, and the grade is determined by the percent light transmission:
- 'Golden' syrup has a light transmission 75% or above
- 'Amber' syrup has a light transmission of between 50% and 74.9%
- 'Dark' syrup has a light transmission of between 25% and 49.9%
- 'Very Dark' syrup has a light transmission of less than 25%
A startling revelation: oxygen can migrate through plastic. Seriously. Metal and glass block the oxygen, but plastic lets the oxygen slowly permeate through to reach the maple syrup inside. The effect is well documented, but it’s sort of a dirty little secret that most people don’t know about. The unfortunate result is that the oxygen turns the maple syrup a darker color. Read the Why Use Glass Bottles blog for more on this.
Maple Syrup Flavor
The flavor is the second factor in determining the grade. While it's possible for light colored syrup to have strong flavors, the intensity of the flavor generally increases as the color darkens. The delicate syrups are great for when you don't want an overpowering maple flavor - perhaps in an Old Fashioned or over vanilla ice cream. The robust flavored syrups are great when you need that extra punch, like in a marinade or baked goods.
The strongest grades are generally considered lower quality and are sold to commercial food operations. The maple flavor in those is different than what you typically use in the kitchen. However, when you need strong maple flavor as an ingredient in a recipe, I highly recommend trying the Grade A Very Dark & Strong maple syrup. It packs the punch when you need it!
Why are there Different Maple Syrup Grades?
Changes in the sugars during processing affect the color and flavor. The sugar in the sap starts as sucrose. During the latter part of the season, naturally occurring bacteria break that sucrose down into glucose, which is a simpler sugar. During the boiling process, the glucose tends to brown, or caramelize, more than the sucrose. This causes the darker colors later in the season.
The year's weather conditions also make it a little bit of a mystery as to what grade will be made. There's always that bit of excitement when the first syrup comes off the evaporator, and we get to find out the color of the year's first syrup. In general, the lighter syrups are made at the beginning of the season when it is colder; the darker syrups are made later in the warmer part of the season.
Each grade is unique and we like to have all available for our different needs. Click here to get a sampler pack and see what your favorite is!