The Classification of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is classified according to stringent Canadian regulations, with two grades and four colour varieties.
On January 1, 2016, Canada introduced a new method of classification: whereas previously, maple syrup was ranked by number (Number 1 Extra Light, Number 1 Light, Number 1 Medium, Number 3 Dark, etc.), the new system uses only two grades: Grade A and Processing Grade.
Within these grades, the syrup is further divided into four different colour/flavour intensities: Gold, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark.
The syrup is classified according to colour (the lightest syrups are those harvested at the beginning of the season, while the darkest, ideal for industrial uses, are harvested towards the end of the season), along with other organoleptic (or sensory) characteristics.
The purity and sugar content of the syrup are virtually identical in all four colour varieties.
Grade A Maple Syrup
According to the definition detailed in the product specification, maple syrup may only be classified as Grade A if it is obtained from the processing of maple sap, and adheres to the following requirements:
- It’s free from unwanted fermentation
- Its colour is transparent and uniform
- It’s free from sediment
- There is no cloudiness
- It has the natural maple scent that is characteristic of each colour variety
- It’s free from any colour or scent not characteristic of its variety
Processing Grade Maple Syrup
Maple syrup that is classified as Processing Grade is also obtained via the concentration of maple sap, but deviates from the qualitative parameters of Grade A syrup. Only Grade A maple syrup may be sold in stores.
The Four Colour Varieties of Maple Syrup
Grade A Maple Syrup is further divided into four colour varieties, according to its transmittance value, or the measurement of the intensity maintained by light passing through the syrup.
The higher the retained intensity (or transmittance value), the lighter and more transparent the syrup.
The lower the value, the darker and more opaque the syrup.
- GOLD – Transmittance Value 75% 75%
- DARK – Transmittance Value 25% 25%
- AMBER – Transmittance Value 50% 50%
- VERY DARK – Transmittance Value 0% 0%
*Minimum transmittance value with a tolerance >25%
It is nature itself which dictates and distinguishes the colours of maple syrup: at the beginning of the harvesting season, the syrup obtained is light in colour and delicate of flavour. As the season progresses, the syrup produced takes on a darker colour, resulting in a variety of changes to the flavour profile.
This wonderful natural sweetener offers an array of aromatic and flavour components, including hazelnut, vanilla, coffee, liquorice, and even floral and spicy notes.
Each variation in colour is given a designation, along with a flavour profile:
– Gold – Delicate Taste
– Amber – Rich Taste
– Dark – Strong Taste
– Very Dark – Robust Taste
Thanks to this method of classifying the product, it’s easy to choose the maple syrup that suits your needs and preferences.
Here are the four different varieties described in detail, and some guidelines for how best to use them in the kitchen:
Golden color – Delicate taste
This syrup is produced in the colder months, normally towards the end of February, and is the first of the season. It has a pale golden colour, and the most delicate flavour of the four varieties.
To take full advantage of the light, refined flavour of this syrup, it’s recommended as an accompaniment to mildly flavoured young cheeses, rusks and other unflavoured biscuits, or even a simple fruit salad.
Amber color – Rich taste
A little bit darker in colour compared to the Gold variety, maple syrup of this grade is produced mid-season, and has a more mellow, rounded flavour.
The recommended use for this grade of syrup is in cooking (it makes a very interesting glaze for salmon), but it’s also fantastic in cocktails, or to sweeten hot and cold beverages alike.
Dark color – Robust taste
With this stronger, more deeply flavoured grade, we take a further stride forward in flavour. This grade of syrup shines best in barbecue sauce, or as a glaze for grilled meats.
Recommeded as a sweetener for coffee, it can also serve as an unconventional accompaniment to strongly flavoured aged cheeses, in place of the more traditional honey.
Very dark color – Strong taste
Harvested at the very end of the maple syrup harvesting season, this grade is by far the most richly flavoured of all the grades of maple syrup available.
Its primary use is in industrial production of confectionery, and its strong flavour leads this syrup to be used as a frequent substitute for treacle.
Which maple syrup should I choose?
The first, and most important, thing is to make sure you read the label thoroughly, because real maple syrup is 100% pure, with no added sugars or preservatives. Essentially, there should be only one ingredient on the label: maple syrup.
As long as you read the label, it’s easy to distinguish real maple syrup from generic “pancake syrup,” which is composed primarily of corn syrup, along with thickeners and colourants. The nutritional value of pure maple syrup remains the same across all grades and colours.
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