Maple Syrup Grades Explained. And How Many Bottles I Produced This Year.

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.

Skip right to the Maple Syrup Grades information!

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.

For the record, my tree reacted much better to its blood donation than I did.  My donation was … more eventful. You can read about it here.

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.

What I got:


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.


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.

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.

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 comes in 5 grades.  They’re called one thing in America and another thing in Canada.  They mean the same thing, we just use different terminology.  All maple syrup “grades” are based on the colour of the syrup not how it was processed or how good it is for you. In terms of taste, the lighter the colour, the lighter the flavour.

Maple Syrup Grades in Canada & U.S.

Grade A Light Amber (US)
No. 1 Extra Light (CA) – Clear and light enough that 75% of light will shine through it.

Grade A Light Amber (US)
No. 1 Light (CA) – Clear and light enough that 60.5 – 74% of light will shine through it.

Grade A Dark Amber (US)
No. 1 Medium (CA) – Medium dark syrup like you’d normally see in a pancake house. 44 – 60.4% of light will pass through it.

Grade B (US)
No. 2 Amber (CA) – A dark syrup that will taste too strong for most people on its own but great for baking and cooking. Only 27 – 43.9% of light can pass through it.

Grade C (US)
No. 3 Dark (CA) – Less than 26.9% of light can shine through this stuff.  It is very dark and very strong.  I’m not sure I’ve even seen any of this in real life.


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 sciency, 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.

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

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.  

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.

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  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. KimS says:

    All I can say is WOW. Amazing.

  9. 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….

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. Nicole says:

    I just dug this up:
    and it looks like the US and Canada now have the same names.

    But you can call them Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Dopey and Doc (Happy took Sneezy to the walk-in clinic for allergy shots) for all I care. I figured the important info in this article was the fact that she got 18 bottles (!!) and that the color changes over the season, not due to processing differences.

    Is finding an infographic equivalent to rescuing you from a spider cave? Because I will totally accept a bottle (doesn’t even need to be one of the fancy leaf ones)! 😀

  17. Anita says:

    wow- be careful Karen- you may get reported on by the MapleSyrup Graders Association 😉

    • Karen says:

      Yes, I’ll have to start building my legal defence team! 😉 I generally ignore comments from people who are obviously crotchety. ~ karen!

      • 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 🙂

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        Awwww . . . where’s the fun in that? I was really lookin’ forward to some good old fashioned snark! lol

  18. Anita says:

    wow- be careful Karen- you may get reported by the maple syrup graders association.

  19. 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/

    • Skipjackk says:

      Say what you will, the grades are incorrect. You shouldn’t post incorrect information. Do some research is all I’m saying. I wasn’t attacking the author. It’s been a few years, it wasn’t last week! Shouldn’t people read info that is accurate? Being a hobbyist doesn’t justify posting incorrect information. I’m not a jerk, but I do this for a living and where I live syrup is serious business.

  20. 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.

    • Meg says:

      Sure. Most professionals in various fields know more than hobbyists. Being maybe 3 years out of date on a naming standardization does not mean she knows nothing. Standards like this are set so that everyone can talk about products in consistent ways. They aren’t intended to point out people who aren’t aware of them yet and yell “GOTCHA!”

      As that appears to be *your* thing, maybe you should post on *your* blog about how a syrup hobbyist was wrong that one time.

      • Sonja says:

        I’m with you, Meg! Some ‘know-it-alls’ are just grouchy!

        • 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!

  21. 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! 🙂

  22. 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). 🙂

  23. 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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