Maple Syrup Grades Explained

Light, Medium and Dark Amber: Which is the Best?

Maple syrup is one of the most universally loved natural food products ever discovered. Long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans were producing maple syrup from the land.

The standard grading system rules for maple syrup officially changed in 2015 with slightly different names announced by the USDA. The grading system describes how syrup’s flavor and color spectrum ranges from light to dark with several variations along the way. There are 5 different grades, however we will discuss the three most popular today.

Traditionally known as “Grade A Light Amber”, the new description for this syrup is “Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste”. This light, golden syrup is produced very early in the season when the sap flow first begins. As any maple tapper knows, the first sap flow of the year is eagerly anticipated as we come out of winter’s deep freeze. The early sap flow is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention to the weather patterns in your region. 

Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste

This early sap flow that produces golden color syrup is very short, approximately the first two weeks or so of the season. This light, golden syrup is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, its delicate and subtle flavor is unmatched by the darker grades produced as the season progresses. It has a floral quality to it with wildflower notes and a very mild finish of caramelized sugar. Secondly, this golden color syrup is usually harder to find and produced in smaller quantities due to the nature of the season. The early sap flow required to make it is short, so it’s rare in that sense.

Golden color, light tasting syrup pairs well with blueberry waffles, Camembert cheese, or drizzled on top of your favorite organic fruit dish. Try using it in tea as a replacement for your usual sweetener.

As the maple season progresses, the syrup produced darkens slightly into the classic “Grade A Medium Amber” now called “Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste” under the new USDA grading system guidelines. 

Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste

This rich tasting amber syrup is the most classic flavor of maple that most people will think of when looking for maple syrup products. Its flavor is much stronger than the light grade, with a beautiful color of aged Scotch. This grade will be produced throughout the bulk of the harvest season and is most commonly found throughout the Spring and Summer until syrup producers sell out. Pair with anything and everything!

If you’re looking to give a gift of maple syrup, the amber color rich taste is the classic bottle to go with; it will be enjoyed by everyone.

Finally, as the maple sugaring season draws to an end late in the Spring, the syrup produced steadily darkens. Changes in the weather and the trees’ internal chemistry cause the sap to develop this way. The syrup produced during this time traditionally known as “Grade A Dark Amber” is now called “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.”

Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste

This late-season grade has wonderful toasted caramel and brown sugar notes. The initial flavor on your palette is like melted browned butter, which is a joy to experience. The stronger flavors are perfect for holiday baking and use in all of your recipes, as the flavor comes through better after cooking than the lighter grades. Pairs well with robust Vermont and English Cheddar cheese or cooked down with Fall squash, sprouts, and pumpkin.

No matter which grade of maple syrup you prefer, there is no right or wrong choice! There is no best or worst rating system. Just like selecting wine, there is a syrup choice and pairing that’s right for each person and each culinary purpose. If you can’t decide, a tasting sampler is the best way to experience several grades with a fun little maple syrup tasting. Tasters usually come with three or four small bottles of syrup ranging from light to dark, an affordable way to try them all.

From left to right: Golden, Medium, Dark

As a note, there are also two more grades not photographed in this article: “Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste” and “Commercial Grade” or “Processing Grade” which is used in commercial food production.

How do I Tap My Trees?

How do I tap my trees? That’s a great question, and today on the blog we’ll show you exactly how to get started.  The first thing you’ll need to do is identify what types of trees you have for tapping. Fall is the perfect time to identify the trees in your yard because the leaves have not completely fallen off of the trees yet. Next, you’ll need to pick up a maple tree tapping kit, available here with free two day shipping.

Step One – Identify Your Trees

Identify the trees in your yard and mark them with a ribbon so that you know which ones you’ll be tapping during the sugaring season. The shape and color of the leaves will help you identify what type of trees you have. See our maple tree identification guide here.

Step Two – Purchase Tree Tapping Supplies

Maple sugaring equipment can be purchased directly from our store on Amazon here. You’ll need a basic maple tapping kit which includes instructions, taps and food grade drop lines. It’s essential to purchase food grade equipment here so that your sap is not contaminated with any chemicals or other unwanted contamination.

Step Three – Tap My Trees

Once the sugaring season rolls around between January and March you can tap your trees! Figure out exactly when to tap your trees by reading our timing guide located here. You’ll need to drill a 5/16” tap hole in each tree, where you’ll insert your plastic tap into. Collect your sap into a food grade container such as a spring water jug with cap. Be sure to check the container twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Still have more questions about sugaring? Check out our FAQ page here full of frequently asked questions about making maple syrup at home.

 

 

Tap My Trees

One of the most rewarding outdoor activities during the spring season is to tap maple trees and get outside with nature! I tap my trees each year in early spring, which here in Connecticut is usually in February. Though unusual, sometimes the sugaring season comes early like it did in 2016 – where I tapped in January.

I love being outside during this time of year; the forest is calm as the sun begins to warm the earth. The smell of crisp spring air fills my lungs as I hike through the woods to collect ice cold maple sap. Snow melts from the daily thaw cycle, and the sound of spring birds singing and water dripping is all you can hear. Wether we’re here or not to observe its rhythm, mother nature carries on.

There is something enchanting about being out there in the sugar bush observing its beauty. To think that Native American tribes collected and processed maple and birch sap hundreds of years before us is amazing. Though the methods and technology have changed, we still collect sap for the same reasons people always have. We enjoy drinking maple sap, using sap to brew coffee, and boiling it down into maple syrup.

The best way to get started making maple syrup is to pick up one of our super affordable maple tree tapping kits. Each kit includes food grade drop lines, 5/16” tree spouts and a quick start guide explaining how to tap a tree. This is the same equipment used by professional sugaring operations all around the country today! Kits can be easily cleaned at the end of the sugaring season and reused year after year. It’s also a great way to teach kids about nature in both a school and at home setting.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and reconnect with the natural beauty that surrounds us!

Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Tapping Maple Trees

We hear a lot of questions about how to tap trees, collect maple sap and make maple syrup. Today we will talk about some of the most frequently asked questions we see and answer them below. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, ask us in the comments below or connect with us over on Facebook!

What is the smallest tree I can tap?

The smallest tree you would want to tap would have a diameter of 10” or ten inches. Trees smaller than that should not be tapped.

Can I install more than one tap or spout in my maple tree?

Trees with a diameter of 10”to 17” can support one tap. Trees with a diameter of at least 18” can support two taps.

How much sap will I get from each maple tree?

Each tree should produce around ten to twenty gallons of sap each season. This varies depending upon the maple season and the health of the individual tree. For example, two identical trees located right next to each other can produce very different levels of sap.

How deep should I drill into the tree?

Drill into the tree approximately 1.5” past the bark and into the white wood. Total depth is approximately 2.5”.

Does maple tapping hurt or damage the tree?

Tapping does not hurt or damage the tree. Following proper care when tapping will avoid any damage to the tree. Only drill one tap hole with one spout for small trees to reduce stress on the tree. The maple is the only species that is self-healing, and the tap hole will heal and close up during the year.

When I’m done collecting sap, should I put anything into the tap hole to stop the flow of sap?

No. The maple tree will heal and close up the tap hole on its own. Never put any foreign objects or plugs into the maple tree.

What is in maple sap?

Maple sap is a complex natural blend of water, sugar, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

Is it safe to drink sap straight from the tree?

Generally speaking, sap is sterile before it leaves the maple tree. However, bacteria can enter the sap once it leaves the tree and is exposed to the environment or your collection container. It is similar to consuming raw cow’s milk; there are both risks and benefits to consuming raw vs. pasteurized beverages. To be safe, boil your maple sap first before drinking it.

How much sap does it take to make a gallon of finished maple syrup?

Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap, so they work best for making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap boiled down to make one gallon of finished syrup.

Where can I buy a maple tree tapping kit and supplies?

Buy a complete tree tapping kit complete with guide sheet and instructions here on Amazon.

How do I tap a maple tree?

Watch our video guide on how to make maple syrup here!

How do I identify what kind of maple trees I have?

See our complete guide on identifying maple trees here.

 

How to Make Maple Syrup

Learn how to tap your maple tree, collect the sap and boil it down into syrup! We just tapped our trees a few days ago here in Connecticut, and have already collected several gallons of fresh, nutrient-rich organic maple sap. We boiled down the sap with a propane gas burner until the sap reached a wonderful golden amber color and stored it in a sterilized mason jar.

This buttery, light amber syrup pictured above is characteristic of the syrup produced very early in the sugaring season. As the season progresses, the syrup produced will become slightly darker in a medium amber color, eventually getting very dark and robust in flavor as we near the end of the season.

Get your maple tree tapping kit here on Amazon. Need some more help? Chat with us here on Instagram.

12 Amazing Facts About Maple Syrup

1. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup.

2. In early spring, sap flow is caused by a daily fluctuation in temperature. Below freezing temps at night and warming above 32 degrees during the day causes sap to flow.

3. Maple syrup is a 100% natural product with nothing else added.

4. Scientists from the University of Rhode Island have identified 54 beneficial natural compounds in pure maple syrup.

5. In 2012, thieves stole $20 million dollars worth of syrup from reserves in Montreal, Canada.

6. In Japan, people eat fried maple leaves as a delicacy.

7. Canada produces over 80% of the world’s total maple syrup supply.

8. There are several grades and colors of maple syrup, and each has different flavors and nuances. Syrup produced early in the season is light amber with light flavor, and gradually darkens in color and strengthens in flavor as the sugaring season progresses.

9. The maple tree is the only tree that is self healing.

10. Maple water is the new coconut water! Maple sap is now commercially sold as a beverage.

11. Drinking sap from the maple tree known as Gorosoe has long been a spring tradition in South Korea.

12. Sap is enjoyed at heated public bath houses across South Korea each spring. They believe in sweating out toxins from the body and rejuvenating the body with healthy minerals and nutrients from maple sap.

Make your own maple syrup at home with a tree tapping kit!