Tree to table

This article was originally published in May 2016

Bit by bit, there are new details appearing on the labels of maple syrup bottles. If you’re used to looking for rich, flavorful grade B for cooking with, you may even have been at a loss to find your favorite. The syrup hasn’t changed — just the labeling.

The grading system began changing in Canada, thanks to a program launched by a delicious-sounding organization: The International Maple Syrup Institute. Vermont was the first state to adopt a variation on these standards in 2013, but in 2015 the USDA introduced a set of voluntary standards that are aligned with the international system.

The previous system contained both grade A and grade B, and people tended to think this was a quality statement; it even raised concerns that grade B syrup was an inferior product. Now, bottles will be labeled based on color and taste, but it’s all Grade A.


Golden Color

delicate taste, formerly grade A Fancy

Amber Color

rich taste, formerly grade A Dark Amber

Dark Color

robust taste, formerly grade B


These color differences in syrup are dependent on both what time of year the sugar maple tree is tapped and what the air temperature is in the forest. If it’s brutally cold in February when the trees are first tapped into, the sap will be lighter; if it’s a season of record-setting warmth, the sap will be darker. Typically, the darker the syrup, the richer the flavor, and in most years, golden syrup is a rarity and not found on grocery shelves. All grades are made the same way (by boiling the sap), and none are more or less refined than the others, so just choose which you like based on flavor!


Get cooking

Maple syrup adds flavor to everything from vinaigrette to a classic snack cake with syrup in both cake and frosting. Check out our recipes!

Related reading