Changes to the USDA Maple Syrup Grading System

Maple Syrup and Pancakes

Alexandra Grablewski

In the United States, maple syrup has been graded with the same 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Commercial Grade: 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. Plus, according to the USDA, there is more demand by home cooks for darker syrup, both for cooking and table use. 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 Revamped Grading System

In 2014, Vermont amended its system, and the USDA made these changes the national standard beginning in 2015:

  1. Grade A Golden Color and Delicate Taste: This grade is equivalent to the old Grade A Light Amber designation and has the same uses.
  2. Grade A Amber Color and Rich Taste: Consider this comparable to Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Dark Amber. This is what most table syrup would be.
  3. Grade A Dark Color and Robust Taste: This is equivalent to Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B Extra Dark and would be used mainly for cooking
  4. Processing Grade: These syrups are the equivalent to Commercial Grade and would be used the same way.

This is great news for the public, who previously found it difficult to purchase darker syrups for home use. Since Grade A Amber Color now encompasses both Grade A Medium Amber and part of Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade A Dark Color now encompasses part of Grade A Dark Amber and all of Grade B Extra Dark, maple-loving home cooks will be able to have their hands on a bunch of exciting new options. This new way of classifying syrups 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.