What is the difference between grades of maple syrup?
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There are different grading systems depending upon where you live but basically they're graded by color, from light to dark, with lighter syrups receiving higher grades. In the U.S. the grades are "A Light", "A Medium" "A Dark" and "B".
This system has always seemed contrary to me since the reason I use maple syrup is for the flavor and the darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor. Others will surely disagree but I see no reason to ever purchase anything other than B-grade syrup.
I'm with ChefOno, enjoying the darker grades of maple syrup. "Grade B" has a deliciously rich and solid maple flavor while "Vermont Fancy" is basically just liquid sugar, almost like a simple syrup.
It's interesting because the maple syrup processors don't have any actual control over what grade their syrup is; they just observe the color and grade it accordingly. The darkest syrup tends to appear at the beginning of a run, either as the first or last sap that's taken from the tree during a day's tapping. It's darker because of a higher concentration of the trees' natural means of protecting themselves. The lightest syrup tends to come in the middle of a run, in the middle of a day's tapping. This is after the darker saps have already been extracted and the sap is considered purer. But all of this is just what tends to happen. Some days, the syrup is all dark or all light. Some runs are very heavy one way or another. Here's a link to my blog; at the end, you can see some pictures of a maple syrup grading kit and the sugaring house I visited in Vermont, near my parents' house:
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The ratings vary between the U.S. and Canada and also among individual States. The reason that the lighter, less "maple-ly" syrups have higher ratings is rooted in history. Maple syrup/sugar used to be a substitute for white sugar, so lighter, less flavorful grades were more highly valued. Now that we have easy access to white sugar, we appreciate the maple flavors. New Hampshire Grade B is what's currently in my refrigerator.
Enjoy what you can get. The early spring here in the Northeast is dreadful for maple producers, who need days in the forties and nights in the twenties. With temperatures in the sixties, there is no water vapor and no smoke coming out of my neighbor's sugarhouse, which should be humming right now.
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