Maple syrup is graded based on two characteristics: color and flavor. There are currently four recognized grades of Maple syrup. These grades include Grade A Golden, Amber, Dark or Very Dark. Each grade has its own taste and specialty uses, and as it stands right now, there is room for debate on which grade reigns supreme above the others.
Dedicated maple syrup lovers will often argue about which grade is best and the uses for different grades, but what are some objective comparisons between the four maple syrup grades? In this article, we will list and provide an in-depth explanation of each grade of maple syrup.
Maple syrup grades
Golden – Grade A golden syrup has a very fine and delicate taste. It is the lightest of all syrups and has a slight vanilla flavor. Some have also described it as having a light buttery taste. Golden is the rarest of all syrup varieties and farmers typically only make it during the first boil of the season.
Amber – Grade A amber syrup has a rich flavor and is amber, as the name suggests. Amber syrup has a stronger taste compared to golden but still maintains a mild-intensity flavor.
Dark – Grade A dark maple syrup is a deep amber in color and has a robust taste. A strong maple flavor replaces subtle flavors previously present in amber and golden syrups.
Very dark – Previously known as grade B maple syrup, grade A very dark syrup has a very strong maple flavor. This syrup has an intense maple flavor that is desirable for cooking in recipes. Very dark and dark varieties are most commonly available because of the classic desired taste sought after by consumers.
What does grade A mean?
All maple syrups sold commercially in the U.S. are standardized as being grade A (1). According to the USDA, U.S. Grade A is the quality that:
- Possesses a good maple flavor (taste) characteristic of the color
- Is clean, free from turbidity or cloudiness, and free from off flavors and odors
- Has good uniform color, which means the syrup color is bright and typical of maple syrup.
How do color and flavor develop?
There is a complicated science behind what gives maple syrup color and taste. Everything from time harvested, sugar concentration, types of sugars present, time spent boiling, and microbial activity all influence the grade of a batch.
Typically, farmers produce delicate grade A golden syrup early in the season. This is due to the high sugar content the sap possesses in the late winter. As spring progresses, temperatures increase, and sugar contents decrease. Warmer temperatures also allow for more microbial activity in the tree sap. Decreasing sugar content and higher microbial activity both produce a darker syrup.
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