What is grade a maple syrup?

Maple syrup is a popular pancake topping and natural sweetener that comes from the sap of maple trees. While there are several grades of maple syrup available, Grade A is the highest quality and what most people think of when they think of maple syrup. In this article, we’ll look at what Grade A maple syrup is, how it’s made, the different Grade A varieties, and how to buy the best maple syrup.

What is Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup comes from the sap or ‘sweet water’ of maple trees, primarily the sugar maple. The sap contains sucrose as well as small amounts of glucose and fructose. To make maple syrup, holes are drilled into maple trees during the early spring when the sap starts flowing. The sap is then collected and boiled to evaporate the water, leaving behind the sticky, sweet syrup.

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The sap is boiled in a maple syrup evaporator which is essentially a large, flat pan over a fire or other heat source. As the water evaporates, the sap thickens and turns into syrup. The syrup is then filtered to remove any sediment or particles.

Grades of Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is graded based on color, flavor, and density. Lighter colored syrup has a more delicate flavor while darker syrup is bolder with a more pronounced maple flavor. Here are the maple syrup grades from lightest to darkest:

Grade Color Flavor
Grade A Golden, Delicate Taste Extra light amber Mild, delicate maple flavor
Grade A Amber, Rich Taste Light amber Moderate maple flavor, bolder than golden
Grade A Dark, Robust Taste Medium amber Strong maple flavor, caramel overtones
Grade A Very Dark, Strong Taste Dark amber Very robust maple flavor, molasses like

Grade A is the highest quality maple syrup grade. It has a sugar content of at least 66% and comes from sap collected earlier in the maple syrup season. Grade A maple syrup has a more refined, smoother flavor without any off flavors.

Grade A Maple Syrup Varieties

Within Grade A, there are several color and flavor varieties:

Golden/Delicate Taste

Grade A Golden or Delicate Taste maple syrup is light golden in color with a delicate, mild maple taste. It comes from the first sap flows of the season when the sap has lower sugar content. It is smooth with subtle maple undertones without being overly sweet. Delicate flavored syrup is preferred for baking, adding to tea or coffee, and drizzling over fresh fruit.

Amber/Rich Taste

Grade A Amber or Rich Taste maple syrup has a richer maple flavor with notes of caramel and vanilla. It has a darker golden amber color from sap collected later in the season as the sugar content increases. Amber maple syrup is the most common type and is preferred for pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, and breakfast foods.

Dark/Robust Taste

Grade A Dark or Robust Taste maple syrup comes from sap harvested late in the season. It has a robust, malty maple flavor and dark caramel notes. The dark color and bold taste stands up well in baking and cooking. It’s also excellent drizzled over ice cream, yogurt, and oatmeal.

Very Dark/Strong Taste

Grade A Very Dark maple syrup is made from sap at the end of the maple season. It has a very strong maple taste with molasses or coffee-like overtones. The dark color and intensity of flavor makes it ideal for baking, marinades, glazes, and barbeque sauces.

Maple Syrup Grades Comparison

Here is a comparison of the different Grade A maple syrup varieties:

Type Color Flavor Uses
Golden/Delicate Extra light amber Mild, delicate maple Tea, coffee, fruit, baking
Amber/Rich Light amber Moderate maple, caramel Pancakes, waffles, oatmeal
Dark/Robust Medium amber Robust maple, caramel Baking, oatmeal, ice cream
Very Dark/Strong Dark amber Very strong maple, molasses Baking, glazes, marinades

Maple Syrup Production

Maple syrup production follows a seasonal cycle in the early spring when conditions are just right to tap maple trees. Here is an overview of the maple syrup making process:

  1. Tap maple trees by drilling holes and inserting a spout or tap
  2. Hang a bucket from the tap to collect the sap as it drips out
  3. Bring sap to a “sugar shack” or maple syrup evaporating facility
  4. Boil sap in an evaporator to evaporate water and concentrate sugar content
  5. Syrup is filtered to remove sediment
  6. Finished syrup is graded, bottled, and packaged

The key factors in maple syrup production are the weather and the short 4-8 week maple season. Cold nights below freezing followed by warm sunny days above freezing create ideal sap flow conditions. The season usually occurs between late February and early April.

Buying the Best Maple Syrup

When buying maple syrup, look for:

  • Grade A syrup for highest quality
  • Labels indicating Dark, Amber or Golden color
  • Sealed container – avoid syrup dispensed in open containers
  • Reputable brand or maple syrup producer
  • Check for production date and avoid old syrup
  • Pure maple syrup – avoid “pancake syrup” which is mostly corn syrup

Maple syrup can be purchased in convenient squeeze bottles, decorative jugs, tin cans, or glass jars. For everyday use, the 12-16 ounce plastic jugs or squeeze bottles are portable and easy to use.

Unopened maple syrup can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Once opened, refrigerate and use within 6 months. Signs of old maple syrup include mold, fermentation bubbles, or a loss of consistency.

Maple Syrup Nutrition

Maple syrup contains nutrients including:

Nutrient Per 100 g
Calories 260
Carbohydrates 67 g
Sugars 60 g
Calcium 40 mg (4% DV)
Iron 0.4 mg (2% DV)
Potassium 212 mg (4% DV)

Maple syrup has a moderate calorie content due to its high sugar make-up. However, it has a lower glycemic index than many other sweeteners meaning it won’t spike blood sugar as quickly. When eaten in moderation, maple syrup provides a source of important nutrients like manganese, riboflavin, and zinc.

Uses for Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is delicious on pancakes and waffles, but it can also be used in a variety of recipes both sweet and savory. Here are some ways to cook with maple syrup:

  • Sweeten oatmeal, yogurt, or overnight oats
  • Make maple glazed vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, or squash
  • Brush on poultry, pork chops, or salmon before baking
  • Mix into dressings, marinades, or barbecue sauce
  • Add to baked goods like muffins, bread, granola bars
  • Drizzle over ice cream, pies, tarts, and other desserts
  • Sweeten coffee, tea, milkshakes and smoothies
  • Homemade maple candy with maple syrup boiled to soft ball stage

Maple syrup can replace sugar or honey in most recipes. When substituting maple syrup for sugar, use 3/4 cup maple syrup for every 1 cup sugar and reduce liquid by about 3 tablespoons.


Grade A maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees and is boiled down to create a sweet, thick syrup with exceptional flavor. It comes in Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark varieties ranging from delicate to robust maple taste. Grade A syrup has a high quality with no defects and is perfect for pancakes, baking, cooking, and more. While pricier than regular syrup, 100% pure maple syrup is worth it for the complex maple taste that ordinary syrups just can’t match.

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