Grading of Maple Syrup Revised by USDA in Time for 2015 Sugaring Season

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has revised the grading of maple syrup, effective March 2, 2015, to eliminate the grading of syrup as Grade B.  Instead, Grade A maple syrup will now include four new color and flavor classes: (1) US Grade A Golden, delicate flavor; (2) US Grade A Amber, rich flavor; (3) US Grade A Dark, robust flavor and (4) US Grade A Very Dark, strong flavor.

The new and voluntary standards were sought by the International Maple Syrup Institute, which represents maple syrup producers in the U.S. and Canada.  According to the Institute, the revised grading standards will permit uniform standards across the U.S. and eliminate confusion for consumers resulting from different grading systems in different states.  Canada has adopted similar uniform standards.

The four color categories, ranging from golden to very dark, are based on the percentage of light transmission through the syrup, as measured with a spectrophotometer.  Sugar content of the sap drops late in the season producing stronger flavored and darker syrup, which according to the AMS, has become more popular of late for table use and cooking.  In the past, this stronger, darker syrup was labeled as Grade B for reprocessing and not intended for retail sale.  With Grade B syrup eliminated, syrup to be used for reprocessing or to make other products will be classified with a new “Processing Grade” designation.  Very dark maple syrup, with strong flavor, may now be categorized in its own (and new) Grade A color and flavor class.

In American Terroir Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields (Bloomsbury USA, New York, New York, 2010), Rowan Jacobsen celebrates great American foods “that are what they are because of where they come from.” He points out that the only suitable terroir in the world for maple syrup is the Greater Northeast, described as a triangle running from Michigan to New Brunswick (Canada) to West Virginia.  The North American Maple Syrup Council is an international network of associations representing sixteen commercial maple syrup producing states and Canadian provinces.   Canadians Bryan Exley and Merna Brown of Dunvegan, Ontario, whose Stonebriar Farm produces hand-crafted maple products (available year round), maintain the website Sugarbush Info that has listings of over 500 maple syrup producers (sugarbushes) in the United States and Canada.

Like wine or coffee, the taste of maple syrup can range tremendously in flavor and consistency according to Rowan Jacobsen, who rhapsodizes over his discovery of maple syrup produced by Vermonter Paul Limberty’s Dragon Fly Sugar Works, which is “rich, creamy and sweet but not cloying” as if “somebody had melted a pad of sweet butter in it.” The revised standards for grading maple syrup, with the four color and flavor classes, provides a running start in searching for a special tin or bottle of maple syrup to enjoy on your pancakes or waffles.

If you have the good fortune to be able to try various samples of maple syrup, before deciding on your purchase, so much the better: perhaps at the National Maple Syrup Festival to be held soon, for four days beginning March 5, 2015, in the small town of Nashville in Indiana’s Brown County or at the 49th Annual Vermont Maple Festival to be held in St. Albans (Franklin County, VT) in the northwestern corner of the state for three days starting April 24, 2015?  Sugarbush Info has listings for 13 maple syrup festivals in Canada and 14 in the United States.

(Frank W. Barrie, 3/01/15)

 

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