In early 2012 the International Maple Syrup institute (IMSI) put out a recommendation to unify the maple syrup grades among maple syrup producing jurisdictions. Currently the USDA, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and the Agencies of Agricultures have adopted rules based on the recommendation of IMSI. Most States and Provinces are transitioning to the new system over the course of 2015. The USDA standards are available online and have been official since March 2, 2015.
Just so everyone is clear, what is maple syrup? It is the liquid food derived by concentrating and heat-treating sap from the maple tree (Acer) as defined in the U.S. FDA standard of Identity for Maple Syrup (they used to spell it Sirup but now it has been officially changed to Sirup!) The solids content of the finished maple syrup shall not be less than 66 percent by weight (Brix) (21 CFR 168.140)
All maple syrup is now Grade A. U.S. Grade A is the quality of maple syrup that has not more than 69.9% solids (brix) content by weight, has a good uniform color, has good flavor and odor, and intensity of flavor (maple taste) normally associated with the color class. It is free from off flavors and odors considered as damage and is free from cloudiness, turbidity, sediment and it is clean. No deviants for damage shall be allowed in Grade A. (USDA Section 52.5962)
Grade A is now divided into several categories. There is a Grade A- Light Amber that has a buttery vanilla taste, light flavor and is often perceived as sweeter due to lack of the strong maple flavor profile. Grade A Amber should be used on ice cream, crepes or other foods that you may not want the maple flavor to overpower but just be subtly there. Then there is Grade A-Amber Rich, which has a solid base maple flavor- this is good for all around usage on pancakes, French toast and in beverages. Next in line is the Grade A-Dark Robust which has stronger maple, caramel and brown sugar flavor notes. This is a good grade to use for oatmeal, formulated into beer, brownies and cakes.
There is no longer really a Grade B- it is referred to as “Processing Grade” now. Processing grade means (by USDA definition) that it does not meet Grade A requirements but meets the requirements of Processing Grade for use in the manufacturing of other products. Maple Syrup for processing can be packed in containers of 5 gallons or 20 liters or larger. It cannot be packed into consumer size containers for retail sale. Obviously if someone were buying a 5 gallon container that is ok since it would typically be used in a processing scenario at that minimum volume. The Processing Grade can’t have more than 68.9% brix, it can contain some off flavors and odors and it can have a very strong taste.
What does this mean for you (the consumer and the artisan food maker?) Don’t disregard commercial or processing grade maple syrup just because you may perceive it as a lower value. A Grade A Light Amber may not work well at all in your maple syrup oatmeal cookies- the flavor may not come through. Alternatively don’t use the commercial grade if you have a delicate tasting product that you plan to add it on to.
Talk to your maple syrup provider/manufacturer and set up a tasting so you can see for yourself how the different versions of “A” will taste and which is the best version for the best price to incorporate into your food product.
For more information on Maple Syrup- here are a few links