Maple syrup can be pretty pricey, so you'd better be sure you know what you're in for when you splurge on a bottle. Between all the grades and shades of maple syrup out on the market (not to mention the imposters!), it can all get a little confusing. But we're here to guide you to the best bottle for your taste.
First things first: Always make sure your maple syrup is "maple" syrup. The good, pure stuff comes from maple trees, whose starch is converted to sugar between winter and spring, resulting in sweet, runny sap. That sap is boiled down to make syrup -- and it's boiled down far more than you may imagine. For example: At Baker's Maple in Bainbridge, NY, every 39 gallons of sap make just 1 gallon of maple syrup. Now do you understand why a jug of syrup is so expensive?
Pure maple syrup is not to be confused with "breakfast syrups" or "pancake syrups" like Aunt Jemima, or basically anything you get at diners and fast food restaurants. Those aren't made from maple sap at all, but from high fructose corn syrup flavored with an aromatic compound called sotolon, which contains the scent of fenugreek, curry and burnt, caramelized sugar. American labeling laws prevent these imitations from carrying the word "maple" on their labels, but people are still fooled nonetheless.
Canada, which produces more than 80 percent of the world's maple syrup, uses its own classification system. There are three grades: Canada #1, including Extra Light (sometimes known as AA), Light (A), and Medium (B); #2 Amber (C); and #3 Dark (D).
The United States has a different system, divided into two major grades: Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is considered the premiere type that's meant for eating, while Grade B is so dark that it's generally only used for cooking or baking. Grade A is broken into three subgrades, which are measured by their translucence: Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber.
The state of Vermont, which produces 5 percent of the world's maple syrup, actually has its own separate grading system that utilizes slightly higher standards of product density. Vermont inspectors enforce strict syrup grading regulations, and can fine producers for falsely advertising their product as maple syrup.
So ... depending on your taste and what you plan to use your maple syrup for (drizzling it over pancakes vs. baking it in a cake batter), we've devised a guide to help you find the best grade for you. Check out our tasters' comments and our recommendations in the slideshow below.
What's your favorite kind of maple syrup? Leave us a comment and check out or other tasting guides below!
Best Use: Its light, delicate flavor is best used as a topping (drizzled over pancakes) or as a cocktail mix-in. Comments: "Clean, pure flavor." "Slightly smoky, with a clean lightness." "Absolutely delicious. I feel as though I could drink a whole glass full." "Very light and thin -- I like my maple syrup thicker." "Really nice, but it lacks much depth." "Sugary, with some floral overtones." "Delicious! Amazing maple flavor, and finishes clean."
Best Use: Its full-bodied flavor is stronger than Grade A Light, but still palatable enough to use as a topping or in cocktails. It could provide mild maple flavor to cooking or baking applications. Comments: "Almost a little buttery." "This is significantly stronger and thicker than the light version." "Notably rich and fuller than the light version. Thicker consistency and strong maple flavor." "This is what I want on my pancakes. It's sweet with noticeable maple flavor." "Very deep and rich." "Thick, viscous texture like honey." "Tasty, but viscous and super sweet."
Best Use: Its deep, rich flavor and thick consistency are only palatable as a topping for true maple-syrup lovers. For most, this would best be used for cooking and baking applications. Comments: "Reminded me of cough syrup." "Coats your tongue." "Very rich -- almost overwhelmingly so. I'd rather bake with this -- I don't want it on my pancakes." "Dark and pleasant. This would be great in bourbon." "Almost too deep, with coffee undertones." "Some faint bitter notes, like an aged rum."
Best Use: This syrup is best used for cooking and baking because of its strong maple flavor and high viscosity, but its complexity makes it a palatable topping option. Comments: "Surprisingly palatable." "A well-balanced syrup. It's got a rich maple flavor with a bit of complexity." "This is heavy, but it goes down smooth." "Almost like dark honey." "Relatively bright flavor, but with depth."
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