So often, people will come to our store in search of pure maple syrup, which we just happen to have. But when they look at our shelves, they see different colors of maple syrup and invariably ask “what’s the difference?” and “which one is best?” Surely maple syrup is maple syrup right? The answer - though it may be surprising to some - is no. 

Color and Flavor

While maple syrup is that sweet liquid we all know and love, there are different maple syrup grades that impact how the syrup tastes, and they are as follows:

Grade A Golden Color, Delicate Taste

Grade A  Amber Color, Rich Taste

Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste

Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste

Let’s talk about each of these in detail and discuss which is best for what. If at this point you’re saying “But what about Grade B maple syrup?”, we’ll come to that later on. Hang tight. 

Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste 

Amber is the most popular maple syrup grade and is typically made during the middle of the maple sugaring season. It is less sweet than Golden but also features more of maple’s distinct flavor. Sweetness still outranks mapleness though. It’s just as good on pancakes and waffles as it is in salad dressing and maple sauces. Basically, Amber is the go-to grade for many people.

Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste

Dark is the second most popular maple syrup grade and is made in the second half of the maple season. It is darker than amber (obviously) but is still sweet and has a robust flavor. Now if at this juncture you are thinking “what the heck does robust mean?”, you’re not alone. Robust just means that it is strong and rich in maple flavor. The maple flavor trumps the sweetness, just only slightly so. This syrup is still good on breakfast foods but better suited towards use in dishes and appetizers.

Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste

For those of you who piped up about Grade B earlier, here is your redemption! Very Dark is made at the very end of the season and is not very sweet, but very strong in flavor. Before the grading systems were unified across the US and Canada in 2014, Very Dark was known as Grade B, but that was changed simply because Grade B sounds inferior but it actually isn’t. Very Dark is too strong for most people but is great for cooking and baking because the flavor is so present. 

So the next time you are shopping for maple syrup, consider yourself an informed consumer! Not only do you know that the grades do have significant meaning, but you can also feel confident you are getting the right maple syrup for the job. If you’re feeling bold, or shall I say robust, try all four and see what you think! Only you can figure out which is “best.”

Images courtesy Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association