If you’ve ever browsed for Vermont maple syrup and felt confused by all the options, you’re not alone. Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark…what’s the difference anyway?!
Maple syrup grading has a lot of nuances but is very important to how we sell our state’s most prized possession. The naming all comes down to color and flavor – let’s clear things up!
United States maple syrup grades and colors weren’t standardized for a long time. From state to state the same quality syrup could be known by different names whether it was produced in Vermont or New Hampshire. The old A, B, and C grading system also implied a scale of quality that was misleading.
In 2015, theUSDA adopted an official maple syrup grading system. Today, all commercial syrup is labeled “Grade A” but with more descriptive names for color and flavor. This is now the standard across the country, including here in Vermont.
Why bother grading maple syrup in the first place? Simply put,not all maple syrup is the same.Vermont sugar makers produce syrup over many weeks in the spring and the results change as time goes on.
Maple syrup is lighter in color earlier in the sugaring season and turns darker as the season goes on. The darker the syrup, the more robust the maple flavor. Time allows the sap to develop and sweeten.
Maple syrup grades are a guide to help consumers choose their ideal flavor profile. Some love a really rich maple flavor, while others like something more delicate. Choosing a type of maple syrup also depends on what you want to use it for (ex: some grades are better for cooking than drizzling on waffles).
When choosing a maple syrup grade, it’s not about which type of maple syrup is the best out there (they’re all good). The ideal way to select maple syrup is by choosing what type of maple flavor is bestfor you.
Today, all maple syrup on the market is Grade A syrup. This is a quality rating that proves the syrup has good color, flavor, and turbidity. It also ensures that the maple syrup does not exceed 68.9°Brix at room temperature. Brix is a unit of measurement for the dissolved sugar content and this temperature keeps maple syrup shelf stable without crystallizing.
Processing grade maple syrup is the lower-grade syrup beneath Grade A, though you won’t find it on the market. That’s because it does not meet Grade A requirements and cannot be packaged in consumer-sized containers. Instead, it’s used in the manufacturing of other maple products.
There are four different types of Grade A syrups to choose from and each one is designated by distinct colors and flavors:
Some sugarhouses make all four grades of syrup throughout the season, while others may only make a couple. It’s all dependent on timing and how the weather impacts production. If a sugarhouse produces syrup whose flavor and color don’t match, the grade is based on the darkest or strongest flavor or color. For example, if a golden-colored syrup has a dark, robust flavor then it would be Grade A Dark.
Let’s break down each of the four maple syrup grades to find what works best for you!
Golden (Delicate) syrup has a light (you guessed it) golden color. It is the first syrup boiled off at the start of the sugaring season, just as the sap starts to flow. A golden syrup has a much more delicate, mild flavor often with hints of vanilla.
Delicate golden syrup is best when paired with other simple flavors that allow it to shine. It’s the perfect option for classic morning pancakes and waffles. We also love drizzling it over a bowl of vanilla ice cream for an easy dessert at night.
If you only have room for one kind of maple syrup in your kitchen,Amber (Rich) syrup is the go-to option. You can use it for anything! Its rich, full-bodied maple flavor makes it a great all-around syrup for everything from breakfast to salad dressings to cocktails. We love how versatile it is.
Darker maple syrup grades come later in the season once a more robust flavor develops. Time is an important ingredient!Dark (Robust) syrup has a stronger, more intense maple taste with notes of caramel.
Dark maple syrup is still great for all kinds of recipes despite its strong flavor. The robust maple sweetness is especially delicious paired with smoky and spicy flavors like barbeque, chipotle peppers, or bourbon. It’s a must if you want the maple taste to stand out!
The last of the maple syrup grades comes at the end of the sugaring season, as the sap starts to slow and boiling simmers down. Very Dark (Strong) syrup has the most intense maple flavor developed over many weeks. This taste is ideal for baking. Use it in bread or cookies for a stand-out maple flavor. It’s also great to use when making barbecue. The robust, intense maple flavor of Very Dark syrup can stand up to the heat from the oven or fire pit without fading. We don’t currently carry Very Dark syrup at the Mill, though we definitely recommend keeping an eye out for it elsewhere.
Sugaring season is one of our favorite times of the year and we’ll never turn down a fresh bottle of Vermont maple syrup, no matter the grade. There’s something to love about all colors and flavors from golden to dark. No single one is the best!
When choosing a bottle of maple syrup, simply go for whatever flavor intensity you love most. Not sure? OurMaple Syrup Grading Sampler is a fun way to learn the difference between syrup grades and colors. It contains three small bottles of Golden (Delicate), Amber (Rich), and Dark (Robust) syrup to try.
To sample the different maple syrup grades, start by holding each jar up to the light. You can see for yourself how the transparency of each liquid differs. The golden syrup will be more translucent, while the dark will be harder to see through. Then give it a try! Start with the more delicate golden flavor and work your way up to the darker flavors. We recommend sipping them straight to experience the best of the season’s maple harvest.