Maple syrup is graded according to standards set by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the standards have recently changed, and syrup is now graded by color and taste. This allows maple syrup lovers to pick a grade of syrup that best suits their individual flavor preferences.
Check out the graphic above to see which grade of syrup will meet your needs the best!
Maple syrup is categorized and graded based on several factors including color, clarity, density, and strength of maple flavor.
Syrup gathered and cooked at the beginning of the season is generally more clear and lighter in taste. As the season progresses, the syrup produced becomes darker and more caramelized in flavor.
All syrup is now considered Grade A syrup. The varieties now known as Grade A, Golden Color/Delicate Taste and Grade A, Amber Color/Rich Taste is typically marketed for everyday use and can easily be found in grocery stores and from most producers. The lighter syrup grades work well in items like salad dressings or viniagrettes. Grade A Dark Color/Robust Taste and Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong taste are best on items like pancakes and ice cream, or used in baking and marinades for meat or for making cocktails as a replacement for a simple sugar. The darker varieties are typically produced towards the end of the sugaring season. It has a more pronounced and rich maple flavor.
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-Maple Syrup Grading-
Maple syrup flavor profiles can be as varied and complex as those associated with fine wines. Maple syrup produced in the earlier portions of the season often offer a light and delicate flavor profile and are typically lighter in color. As the season progresses, syrup tends to become darker in color with a more robust and rich flavor profile.
Intricacies in maple syrup are the result of the components of maple sap. Maple sap includes water, minerals, various sugars, phenolic compounds, flavoinoids, and organic acids and nitrogen compounds. Maple sap composition varies during the sugaring season, from year to year, tree to tree, and region to region.
Maple syrup flavor profiles continue to develop during the cooking process. As the water evaporates from the maple sap, the chemical processes of carmelization and Maillard reaction continue to develop the flavors. During carmelization, which adds oxygen to the sugar, results in the nutty flavor profile and darkening color. During Maillard reactions (also responsible for the smell and color of toasting bread), the amino acids and sugars present, help develop the "maple" smell of syrup. The phenols of vanillin and coniferol are released during hte cooking process to round out the complex maple aroma.
-Tasting and Flavor Profiles-
Maple syrup tasting is similar to the tasting of a fine wine. We recommend the 5 "S" technique to assess the flavor profile of syrup.
Pour your syrup into a small glass. Take a look at the syrup. What color is it? Is it brown? Yellow with a bit of gold? Rotate the glass around to look at the viscosity and color differences
Swirl the syrup gently. This allows the aroma and bouquet to meld together and rise in the glass
Smell the syrup. Try to identify dominant flavors.
Take a small sip of syrup.
Savor the sip of syrup. You should still be able to identify the dominant flavors, but also the more subtle aromas as well.
If you plan on tasting multiples grades of maple syrup, always start with the lightest color of maple syrup. That way, the darker more robust flavored maple syrup flavor won’t impact the delicate flavors of the lighter maple syrup.