Maple Syrup Grades

There are two well known systems of maple syrup grading in use today. One system is used in Canada (where 80% of the world’s maple syrup is produced) and another system is used in the United States of America.

In 2002, the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI) assembled a committee to discuss consolidating the information on the current grading system and to make recommendations regarding whether or not the current system was appropriate for the future or if changes were needed.

At the time, members of IMSI’s Maple Grades and Nomenclature Committee were:

Dave Chapeskie, Executive Director, IMSI (Chair)
John Henderson, Risk Management Specialist, OMAFRA
Jerry Kless, Marketing Manager, Citadelle
Bernard Perrault, Director, Federation of Quebec Maple Producers
Dave Matthews, Past President, Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association
Henry Marckres, Supervisor, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Randy Heiligmann, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University
Eric Prud’Homme, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Chere Shorter, United States Department of Agriculture
Arnold Coombs, Chair, Vermont Maple Industry Council

Mark Wheeler, Past President, Ontario Maple Syrup Producers has served on the Maple Grades Committee in the past.

Syrup thickness is not related to grade. State and Province laws dictate minimum thickness requirements for syrup. For example, New York State requires a thickness of 66% solids. Vermont has stricter laws, requiring 67.1% thickness. These minimums protect the consumer from being cheated by a diluted product. Thicker syrups are also safer to consume, with only 62% solids a syrup is likely to contain and breed dangerous pathogens.

The Canadian system assigns numerical grades from 1 to 3 with several subcategories. Grades are established based on light transmittance. Number 1 syrup is broken down to Extra Light, Light and Medium. The lightest syrup varies from full (100%) light transmittance to 75%. In comparison, light and medium vary from 74.9%-60.5% and 60.45-44% respectively. Number 2 syrup is classified as Amber and has a range of 43.9%-27% light transmittance. Number 3 syrup is darkest and includes all syrup below 27% light transmittance.

The US maple grading system assigns grades ranging from AA to Commercial Grade. AA syrup is also labeled light amber or ‘Extra Fancy’ and is equivalent to Canadian number 1. Many people incorrectly assume that syrup with the highest grade has the strongest maple flavor, but the opposite is true. This syrup has the lightest flavor, it reads as subtle to some and weak to others. AA syrup is made from the earliest sap; approximately 25-30% of syrup production will fall into this grade. This syrup will produce the lightest maple sugar with the most subtle flavor. Bias toward the label of ‘AA’ means this syrup is often more expensive than the others.

Grade A syrup is divided into medium amber and dark amber. These syrups are darker in color and have a stronger maple flavor. Medium amber is often used as table syrup for pancakes and other breakfast foods. Some people think dark amber syrup is too strong for table use and prefer to use it for baking. 50-60% of maple syrup falls into these two categories.

Grade B is very dark; it is the same as Canadian number 2. This syrup has the strongest flavor. Grade B is the best syrup for baking, it allows for a strong maple flavor without adding too much liquid. It is also used as table syrup for those who love strong maple flavor. Only 10% of syrup is labeled Grade B.

Vermont produces the majority of maple syrup in America. Other important states in maple production include New York and Maine. Vermont has its own grading system; it is very similar to the American grading system but includes a grade below B. Commercial grade syrup is not sold bottled for use. It is used as a flavor additive in other products. Commercial syrup is the darkest syrup produce, only 2-3% fits this label. In Vermont, syrup grading is taken very seriously. Fines of more than $1000 are applied for mislabeling syrup. At this time there are motions in the state of Vermont to make it a felony to market fake maple products as real maple syrup.