Making the Grade: Maple Syrup Explained

Do you ever have a moment in the grocery store where you stand in front of the maple syrup and feel totally mystified? What is the difference between all of these grades? Didn’t there used to be a Grade B? Isn’t it all the same anyway? And why not just go with the cheap stuff that Grandma always used made by someone’s Aunt?

How It’s Made...

It’s not as complicated as is seems: real maple syrup comes from real maple trees. The refining process begins within the tree: frozen starch converts to that sweet sugar between the cold winter months and the spring thaw. This cooling and warming effect results in a deliciously sweet, sticky, and sappy treat. Maple farmers work in tandem with Mother Nature: they tap the trees and collect the sap as it thaws in the winter and then boil down. It takes A LOT of sap to create just 1 gallon of syrup-- approximately 40 gallons of sap just for 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. This is no small feat, but the labor is why pure maple syrup is leagues better than artificial stuff. At Woodlands Maple, we believe in paying our farmers a living wage for the work they put into making this perfect, premium product.

Maple Grading

Recently, the USDA adopted the standards held by the International Maple Syrup Institute and changed the maple grading classifications. The new grading changes create a level playing field within the maple industry that translates easily to the international standards. Press Secretary for the Office of the Minister of Agriculture for the Canadian government says, “the changes harmonize the definition and grading system in the United States and Canada and give consumers more consistent and relevant information about different varieties of maple syrup.”  

There are two main classifications with a few sub categories based on the syrup’s color and flavor profiles that are determined by the point in the season the sap was harvested. Lighter, more subtle flavored syrup comes from the early sugaring season. Adversely, dark and robust flavors are from later in the season.

The new grading system has taken a little getting used to: it doesn’t align with the old system perfectly, and most notably, Grade B is no more, there is only one grade, Grade A. The word Grade is used to describe two different classifications. The first relates to quality; the maple must meet certain quality standards to be called Grade A. The second relates as a way to differentiate the flavor which is primarily determined by color.


Here’s how it breaks down:

Grade A: Golden Color & Delicate Taste - Formally Light Amber

This flavor grade is the lightest in flavor and is typically harvested in late January or early February. Woodlands does not offer this flavor grade, since the maple flavor isn’t as robust as our customers demand.

Grade A: Amber Color & Rich Taste - Formally Grade A: Medium Amber

This grade is tapped early - mid season and its flavor is smooth and well rounded.

Amber has a rich taste and a solid maple flavor but still light enough so you can taste the subtle flavor nuances that come through in addition to the maple flavor. Amber is perfect for drizzling over your breakfast standards or adding a bit to your Greek yogurt or as a finishing drizzle over fish. We love the subtle sophisticated flavor of our Woodlands Select Amber sourced from Up Country NY.

Grade A: Dark Amber-Robust Taste - Formally Grade A Dark Amber

Typically tapped mid to late in the tapping season, this is the “traditional” maple flavor that you’re used to. Of course, drizzling over your pancakes is only the beginning of what you can do with this supreme syrup. We use this grade of syrup on everything. And we mean everything: maple-inspired cocktails, sweetening our tea and coffee, and for those following a Vegan diet, maple is a wonderful replacement for honey.

Our Woodlands Select Dark Amber is far from traditional. You may taste notes of vanilla, caramel or even cocoa. We love using this syrup as a fabulous flavor enhancer for our BBQ sauces and as a glaze for our grilled meat and veggies.  

Grade A: Very Dark & Strong Flavor - Formerly Extra Dark for Cooking (Grade B)

Grade B as you might have known it. If you’re looking for the most potent maple expression, this is your syrup. It is tapped at the very end of the season when the sugar chemistry within the maple trees is at its darkest-this is the peak moment in the maple harvest.

This grade is an easy substitute for molasses in recipes. Consider substituting maple syrup for sugar in your whipped cream, pies and when you roast Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips. Woodlands Select Very Dark has an amazingly robust flavor, and that’s just the kind of flavor we like. We drizzle on vanilla ice cream and hot cereal. Trust us, a little goes a long way.

No matter what grade you prefer, the important factor in selecting a maple syrup is that it is pure, organic and single-origin, like Woodlands Maple.