Maple Syrup Grades Explained.

Maple Syrup!  You have to love it.  But do you understand it?  Do you know why some maple syrup is light and some maple syrup is dark?   Most people think they know why.  But they’re wrong.  Everything you need to know about maple syrup grades to impress your friends.

Maple leaf shaped glass bottle of backyard produced Golden maple syrup with on a rough piece of barn board with a budding maple tree branch in foreground.

If you happen to be wondering what it’s like to be me, it’s exhausting.  If you happen to be wondering why some maple syrup is light and some is dark it’s simple.

Maple Syrup now comes in 4 grades that are the same across North America. Up until 2014 maple syrup grades across North America were different and confusing. Canada had one set of grades and the U.S. had another, plus each grade seemed to have two different names.

It was just weird.

In 2014 the industry realized that maple syrup isn’t really that complicated so they came up with a simple standard and description for the 4 grades based on their colour and corresponding taste.

By the way – the colour of the syrup is not the result of how it was processed, what type of maple tree it came from or how good it is for you. More on that in a minute.

If you want to make your own maple syrup I have an easy to follow guide to making maple syrup in your own backyard. Look at it if you have a maple tree (yep, as long as it’s big you just need one tree) and have always wondered about making maple syrup with it.

Maple Syrup Grades in Canada & U.S.

(In terms of taste, the lighter the colour, the lighter the flavour.)

Golden – delicate taste, clear and light enough that 75% or more light will shine through it.

Amber – rich taste, light enough that 50-75% of light will shine through it.

Dark – robust taste, only 25-50% of light will shine through it.

Very Dark – very strong taste  I’m not sure I’ve even seen any of this in real life.  Less than 25% of light can pass through it.

In terms of taste that means, the darker the syrup the stronger and heavier  the flavour.  If you like a nice light tasting maple syrup, you should choose the Golden syrup.  If you like something stronger, go darker.


What’s the Difference Between Light & Dark Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup that is produced at the beginning of the season is light.

Maple syrup that is produced at the end of the season is dark.

It’s as simple as that. It has nothing to do with how long it’s cooked or what type of tree it came from.  The darkness happens because the days are much warmer at the end of the season. These warm days increase the bacteria present in the tree which changes the sucrose in the sap to fructose to glucose which produces a darker syrup.  It’s sciencey, complicated stuff and if you’re interested in the full story you can read about it in this article.

But the gist of it is … early sap makes light syrup, later sap makes dark syrup.

Bottles of home produced maple syrup in order of colour from golden to amber to dark.

These aren’t all my bottles, it’s just some of the 18 bottles.

What about grades A versus B? Don’t worry about grade B maple syrup. It doesn’t exist anymore. At least not for sale. Grade B used to be one of the names given to darker, later season syrup but in 2014 with the new maple syrup grades, Grade B was thrown out the (sugar shack) window.

Want some maple leaf shaped maple syrup bottles?  I don’t blame you. But they’re not cheap, they’re $60 for a case of 12 on Amazon.  

What Kind of a Maple Syrup Season I had (2018)

I have officially packed up the maple syrup making equipment for another year or two. Or twelve. Ack. Let’s just round it up to the next century.

I do this all the time. Swear I’ll never do something again because it’s either too time consuming, too exhausting or too likely to make my nose run relentlessly.  It’s the same reasoning behind why I never had children.

Making maple syrup checks off all of those boxes and all you get at the end are a few jars of liquid gold, made with nothing other than the blood of trees.

At least I’m smart enough not to believe myself.  I’ll totally make maple syrup again, probably next year in fact. Although, based on the stash I got this year, I might be able to push it to 2020 unless I develop a serious addiction to Maple Cream Sodas.

It’s funny how I say that like I haven’t already developed a serious addiction to Maple Cream Sodas.  I’m cute and sassy that way.  I thought after all the blathering and photos of my making maple syrup on this blog and on my Instagram account this year I should show you what all that work boiled down to.

To recap:

I boiled gallons and gallons of maple syrup every few days for 4 weeks straight.

I tapped 4 trees this year with a total of 6 taps.

I collected sap from the buckets 1-2 times a day.

I forgot to bring Kleenex with me 0 times on these sap collection treks.

The latest I had to stay up boiling sap and making syrup was 2:15 a.m.

I burned 1 full pan of sap.  That pan is currently thrown in the middle of the backyard where it will rot until I can be bothered to pick it up and throw it out.

Burned pan of maple syrup.


What I got:


Various grades of maple syrup in glass bottles laid out on natural barn board.

18 bottles (big and small) of pure maple syrup. 2 bottles are already marked for the two neighbours who let me tap their trees. So now I’m down to 16.


Light shining through bottle of amber maple syrup.

I think it goes without saying that I’m going to have to put 2 bottles aside for emergency, unforeseen gift situations.   Like, in the coming year someone might do me a favour worthy of getting a bottle of maple syrup as thanks.  It’s unlikely someone will need to rescue me from a remote, spider filled cave in Iraq guarded by 17 clones of El Chapo not once, but TWICE but …. you never know.

So now I’m at 14 bottles of maple syrup.

Home produced bottles of maple syrup of various grades.

One for each month, plus two for Maple Cream Sodas.  Mind you, I like to make Maple Bourbon BBQ sauce in the summer.  A couple of batches.  So that gives me 10 bottles for regular every day use.  No problem.

Except I might drop a bottle.  I’ve never done it before but it makes sense to account for that just in case.

9 bottles now.  That’s less than a bottle a month, which makes my eye twitch, which means I’m anxious.  I drink maple syrup when I’m anxious.

Crap.  8 bottles.

Which in the grand scheme of things is hardly anything at all. I mean think of how stressed you’d be if you only had 8 dollars.  Or fingers.  8 is shit.

I’d better stop thinking about this or I’m likely to drink every bottle left in the house.

In conclusion, after my reflections in this post, I will not be making more syrup next year.  That would be stupid.  I obviously need to make more by this afternoon.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←


Maple Syrup Grades Explained.


  1. Scott Mallonee says:

    A question for Karen and experts: what relationship is there between “when the sap flows”, vs. early/late sap collection determining colour and flavour? From what I’ve read, sap flows heavily in a narrow period when nights are sub-freezing and days are a little warmer. Something about this time period makes the sap flow most heavily. That would me about mid-March to Mid-April where I live in VA, earlier in VT or Canada. Is this true, there is a narrow window “when the sap flows”? I seem to remember hearing that “when the sap flows” expression in various colloquial uses over the years.

    Yet I have also read that sap collected in warmer time, (later in the summer?) yields darker syrup due to microbal activity in the tree. Is sap collected through the summer? Is sap colected during the early spring “sap flow” period always lighter? It would seem that mid-color is dominant on store shelves, suggesting high sap flow during the time medium-dark syrup results.

  2. Scott Mallonee says:

    Love, love, love mepple syrup. Like others here, #1 Clear Light’s the one for me. I am an American in Canada, many of my Quebecois colleagues scoff at my preference, say #1 has no flavour. They boisterously boast the like it plenty dark and flavourful, with the twigs and bugs still in it. I stick to my guns, #1 Clair or Delcate/Golden forever!

  3. Be says:

    I have very dark syrup and I can attest that it is the best of the options. I also prefer Demerara sugar and Demerara rum. Darker means more flavour which adds up to more excitement for your taste buds.

  4. WeesieOnPI says:

    Thanks, Karen, for explaining the difference between grades. Could you, and other readers, please comment more on flavour diferences between the grades?

    Almost 70 years ago, my dear brother thought he’d try cooking an egg in a big vat of maple sap-becoming-syrup our Dad had simmering over a fire in our backyard. A disastrous experiment we’ve never let my brother forget!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Weesie! Literally the lighter the colour the lighter the taste. :) So the darker you go the more rubust and heavier the maple flavour. Some of it is so dark that you wouldn’t want to eat it alone, but rather cook with it. ~ karen!

  5. Lavada says:

    As for your sappy burnt pan, I’ve had great success (burned figs which were like concrete!) with boiling water poured over dryer sheets that have been placed in the pan, soak overnight, and see what may come out. If it seems to be working, do it again. Might be worth a shot.

  6. Calliek says:

    Maple syrup lovers are a passionate bunch and there are strong opinions about which is more desirable, light or dark syrup. My family comes from Quebec and the first run syrup (No 1 extra light) is the most prized so for me that’s the only true syrup- the dark ones taste like molasses to me. I said that to a Vermonter once and they were very scornful because they call the first run “flatlander syrup” and the dark syrup is a premium there. I have heard the darker syrup referred to as ‘frog run syrup” as the taps were left in so late in the season that frogs were already croaking. But my favourite maple syrup nickname was my grandmother’s – she was born and raised in the Laurentiens where sugar maples are so abundant that no one taps anything else. When she discovered that other species of maples were also tapped in Ontario she declared that was no better than tapping fence posts so all Ontario maple syrup was ” fencepost syrup” from then on.

  7. Heather says:

    Hats off to Karen for putting in all the work of tapping trees, making syrup and then sharing all this great info with the rest of us. Well done!

  8. Sher Miller says:

    My birthday is in July. In fact, it is July 26. Does that constitute an emergency bottle of maple syrup?

  9. Mary W says:

    Love when I learn something new – color doesn’t mean cooking time. I guess I got that from cooking caramel or spun sugar or something. I plan to try some light golden maple syrup again from some very expensive bottle – just to see if my taste buds have changed their mind. Can’t stand to think I may go to my grave without enjoying something as wonderful as you all keep saying it is.

  10. Meg says:

    I don’t know how you do! You’re amazing. I obviously can’t contain myself.

    Your post was hilarious as usual, and I appreciate knowing about the grades. I can’t wait to try tapping trees someday! Until then I’ll just read about it :)

  11. Jody says:

    One year when it was particularly warm mid-March to sap turned very dark as soon as it started to boil. A foodie friend was so excited at the prospect of such dark syrup and cooking with it. He likened it to real good really expensive Balsamic vinegar.

  12. KimS says:

    All I can say is WOW. Amazing.

  13. Ev Wilcox says:

    Delicious! I am a savory-loving gal, but real, pure maple syrup? I must buy some soon and hide it! If I don’t share with husband or adult children, who will know? Hee hee hee….

  14. Erin says:

    I swear maple syrup runs through my veins. I used to offer to carry my kids’ plates out to the kitchen after pancakes or french toast so that I could lick the remaining syrup off their plates in privacy. You’ve worked so hard Karen – if I were you I would use commercially produced real syrup in your BBQ sauce where you can’t really taste the ‘homemade’ and save yourself two more bottles for tasting on pancakes (and plate licking) or in maple cream sodas! Just sayin’….

    • Renee Ryz says:

      I cracked up about that plate licking – guilty as charged! I do whatever I can to get any left in the little pitcher we use to warm it up too!

  15. Marilyn Meagher says:

    Who care what you call it. I call it pure heaven. I love maple syrup and thankfully have a ready supply from my sister who has a connection. Lol.

  16. Maggie Van Sickle says:

    oh by the way Karen if u fall short let me know I buy a case every year from my sisters neighbour north of Napanee. He has a sugar bush. I will gladly give u a bottle. Get some rest. Bahaha

  17. Melissa says:

    I feel your pain about the time and lost batch of syrup.

    Well, I don’t feel it— but my mom did when she accidentally poured soapy water into a batch of sap that was cooking down on my parents’ kitchen stove.

    My dad used to put his syrup in old Grolsch bottles, so you didn’t know what it looked like until it was on your crepes. But, yeah— maple syrup is the best.

  18. Maggie Van Sickle says:

    No wonder u are tired trying to figure out how much maple syrup u will have left after you figure out what each bottle will be used for. Bahaha

  19. Sideroad40 says:

    A few things I’ve learned over the years of hobby maple syrup making:
    Patience Patience Patience….syrup masters are ‘process’ people who love ‘free’ food :)
    You’re not a syrup expert until you’ve burnt a pan (told to me by another expert)
    Who cares about the grades…it’s ALL delicious – I actually prefer the darker
    FYI – there’s a supplier up near me (and near your treehouse friends) who sells everything you could possibly need to produce liquid gold including those maple leaf bottles. I’m going to check out his pricing next time I’m there…stay tuned (probably country prices) – click on ‘additional’ where he only has a phone number, no website….good ol country boy.

  20. Gayle M says:

    Skipjackk, you could have explained this with a bit more compassion. Karen is not the only one unaware, as I was. As was this Blogger, from Sep 12, 2017:

    “My parents hail from Vermont and Maine, so I take maple syrup pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I completely missed the USDA’s 2015 re-grading measure because I was still working through the four gallons of Grade B I’d bought in 2012. “–A. A. Newton, Skillet/

  21. Skipjackk says:

    How old is this article? The grades of maple are wrong. This person has no idea what she’s talking about. I pack syrup for a living and the grades are, Golden, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark. This new grading system has been in place for a while now. I think you need to do more research.

    • Heather says:

      Hats off to Karen for putting in all the work of tapping trees, making syrup and then sharing all this great info with the rest of us. Well done!

  22. Melissa says:

    That’s so awesome. We don’t have maple trees in our neck of the woods, but I would like to try my hand at tapping birch. I’m a glutton for punishment like you, with my wild blueberry and lingonberry picking. I will pick every spare day I have until I can barely stand up straight and my knees are swollen. And my face is chewed up by mosquitos. And I do it year after year after year. And I will never stop! :)

  23. whitequeen96 says:

    Karen, those bottles of syrup = treasure. Have you made your will yet, and decided whom they will go to? I’d like to offer them a loving home here with me. In fact, if you leave them to me, I will be happy to come up and take you out for a nice dish of fugu (an exciting Japanese dish made with puffer fish). :-)

  24. TucsonPatty says:

    I love my maple syrup on 2 pancakes (with a salt and pappered egg between, thank you very much). I love to do that twice if I am able, also. But why is it that I do not like maple flavored other things – like chocolates with maple cream inthe middle, or those maple iced Long John donut thingys? I would eat bacon fried with maple syrup back when I still ate meat, but what is it about the flavor that I don’t enjoy? Are those things too fake, and my discerning palette can tell?
    Those bottles are a work of art, and the blood (?) sweat and tears while you slavedover it all! Nice work! Be very cautious of the rest of the 8 bottles you have left! : )

    • whitequeen96 says:

      Those phony maple syrup flavored foods are yucky! And it’s definitely because our discerning palettes know the difference. Once you’ve had the real stuff, nothing else will do.

      • Gayle M says:

        I was brought up on–get ready to gag–Karo dark and thought my girlfriend’s bottle of Karo clear was pretty special…yeah. So, I still find pure maple syrup too sweet, and don’t like anything maple flavored, either. I’ll have to train my palate to match my husband’s, for whom I buy the real stuff. (I just use some of my homemade jams or jellies on pancakes and waffles. I just whipped up a batch of grape yesterday, from grapes harvested then frozen from our backyard “vineyard” of 12 vines, lol.)

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