Changes to the USDA Maple Syrup Grading System

Cornmeal Pancakes with Maple Syrup
Maple Syrup on Cornmeal Pancakes. Photo: Diana Rattray

Maple syrup has been graded with the same grading system for years. The system had five grades: 

  1. Grade A light amber, made early in the season during colder temperatures. This syrup is very light in color and has a mild flavor.
  2. Grade A medium amber, made in mid-season when the temperatures have begun to go up. It's slightly darker than light amber and has more maple flavor. Most table syrup is this grade.
  1. Grade A dark amber, made after mid-season. This syrup is darker and has a more intense flavor than medium amber. It is used in cooking and is preferred as a table syrup by those who like a strong maple flavor.
  2. Grade B extra dark, made near the end of the season. It is dark and has a strong maple flavor. It is used mostly in cooking.
  3. Commercial grade is made from the last sap collected at the end of the season. It is not sold for home use. It is very dark and has an intense maple taste. It is used commercially and sometimes by chefs.

The problem with this system is that the grades did not precisely match those used internationally.

And, according to the USDA, there is more demand for darker syrup for table use and for cooking. Under the old system, Grade B was used mainly for reprocessing and was not intended for retail sale. This would explain why it was nearly impossible to find the darker syrups locally.

The New Grading System

In 2014, Vermont changed to a new system, and the USDA made the new system the national standard beginning in 2015:

  1. Grade A Golden Color and Delicate taste is equivalent to the old Grade A light amber and has the same uses.
  2. Grade A Amber Color and Rich Taste is comparable to the old Grade A medium amber and Grade A dark amber and is what most table syrup would be.
  1. Grade A Dark Color and Robust Taste is equivalent to Grade A dark amber and Grade B extra dark and would be used mainly for cooking
  2. Processing Grade is equivalent to the old Commercial grade and would be used the same way.

So what's the big deal? What's the real difference here? Grade A Amber Color now encompasses both Grade A medium amber and part of Grade A dark amber. Grade A Dark Color now encompasses part of Grade A dark amber and all of Grade B extra dark.

This new way of classifying will bring U.S. Standards in line with International ones and also will make the extra dark syrup that was classed Grade B more available to the public.

Recipes with Maple Syrup

Fluffy Maple Frosting

Maple and Bacon Cornbread

Pumpkin Pound Cake With Maple Pecan Glaze

Baked Country Style Ribs With Maple Barbecue Sauce