What's the skinny on maple syrup?
Next time you’re smothering a stack of pancakes with rich ‘n’ sticky syrup... you might want to consider:
Syrup is made by boiling the sweet sap of maple trees over extremely high temperatures. The sugary sauce then becomes concentrated or “reduced” as water evaporates to form sap. As you might guess, making syrup involves a LOT of sap. Sometimes, over 40 gallons of sap are required to produce just one gallon of syrup.
The actual production side of the process is time-consuming, labor intensive, and yes—extremely sticky. Syrup “season” spans winter to spring. Which, for Vermont-based farms means trudging through snow, ice and mud. Clad in snowshoes and smiles, producers comb their sugarbush (a forest primarily made of super maple trees), 'tap' each separate maple tree by drilling a small hole in the truck, insert a small spout, and secure them by 'tapping' them with a hammer.
From here, each tap usually drains into a system of pipelines that connect to the sugarhouse (where sap is boiled down to syrup).
Grades of Syrup
So what’s the difference between light and dark syrups? Or grade A and B? While all grades of pure maple syrup are identical in density and maple sugar content, the color of the syrup can (and does) range from pale golden to darker brown. In fact, syrup “grades” directly relate to its color - and color has everything to do with how the syrup is processed.
The devil is in the details: as the season warms up, the sap coming from trees becomes darker in color, producing darker syrup. Not surprisingly, the darker the syrup: the stronger its flavor.
The State of Vermont distinguished four maple syrup grades, from light to dark:
Clear and light in color with a subtle but complex flavor. Hints of vanilla, from the vanillins that are naturally present in maple syrup. A solid choice for pancakes, waffles and even fresh fruit.
Grade A Medium Amber
A shade darker than Fancy, but still light and aromatic. Contains a more pronounced maple flavor, and is considered 'traditional' syrup by most flapjack stack gurus.
Grade A Dark Amber
Made at the end of sugaring season, just before trees begin budding. Practically as dark as molasses. Extremely strong, intense flavor, often used as a cooking-grade syrup. Produced during the end of the season, Dark Amber offers a robust maple flavor, hearty texture and is great for baking.
Made at the end of sugaring season, just before trees begin budding. Practically as dark as molasses. Extremely strong, intense flavor, that’s often used as a cooking-grade syrup. Don't be misled, even though it says Grade B, the quality of this syrup is just as high as the others. The color is just darker.
Enjoy syrup! We recommend sticking to the pure stuff. Pure maple syrup is unrefined, and stocked with tons of beneficial nutrients like potassium, magnesium and iron. Long believed to be good for digestion and the circulatory system, syrup makes for a low-calorie, fat-free sweetener. Pour it on.