Rating Maple Syrup With Spectrophotometers Helps Producers Make the Grade


 Posted on December 20, 2017

Growing up in New England, I was raised to pay attention to my maple syrup. We were allowed to eat as much “table syrup” as we liked, but when it came to the real stuff—the good stuff—we had to ration and apportion each perfect drop. When we were able to use it on our pancakes, waffles, or french toast, we were over the moon. We’d carefully drizzle the sticky bottle over our dishes, savoring each bite so long our meal would be cold by the time we were done. To this day, when it comes time for me to buy maple syrup, only the real thing will do.

Maple Syrup Grades Assigned By Color

Of course, not all maple syrup is the same. Maple syrup exhibits a wide range of color, turbidity, viscosity, and flavor, depending on the properties of the raw maple sap and the particularities of processing. Some are dark and stormy, like a blizzard on the mountain, while some are so light and airy they seem to be the food of angels.

For many years, maple syrups were classified and graded according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) color standards, with a significant bias toward lighter syrups. Lighter syrups were grade A, while darker syrups were relegated to grade B. This created a consumer perception that lighter syrups were preferable to darker syrups.

While this color-based grading system was voluntary, not mandatory, it nonetheless created difficulties for manufacturers of darker syrups. This resulted in multiple deleterious effects, including the reduction of manufacturer revenue. Grade B syrups, regarded as inferior, could not sell for the same price as grade A syrups, reducing the amount of yield each manufacturer could glean from their harvest.

The Reinvention of Maple Syrup Grading

Thanks in part to the efforts of the International Maple Syrup Institute, a non-profit society dedicated to the maple syrup industry, the USDA changed their grading system in 2015 to describe maple syrup without creating a bias. 1 . The new classifications for color are:

  • U.S. Grade A Golden (delicate taste, ≥75.0 percent light transmittance (%Tc))
  • U.S. Grade A Amber (rich taste, 50.0-74.9%Tc)
  • U.S. Grade A Dark (robust taste, 25.0-49.9%Tc)
  • U.S. Grade A Very Dark (strong taste, <25.0%Tc)

As you can see, these new standards classify even “Very Dark” syrups as grade A, increasing their value to manufacturers and broadening the palates of consumers. While different syrups may have different uses and appeal to different customers, all grade A syrups are of the highest quality. Only syrups which have been damaged or contain off flavors or odors are classified as grade B under the new standards.

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