While reading Midwest Living Comfort Food 2012 last fall there was some specific information about how syrup is graded. Kind of interesting, producers need to collect 40 to 50 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. It is graded according to how much light shines through the cooked liquid and the grading system varies from state to state. This is not the same as pancake syrups like Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth.
I did observe this process recently at my local Maple Syrup Festival and the sap starts out clear in the beginning and gradually gains color and flavor the longer it cooks. This is something you want to do outside and not in your kitchen!
Grade A syrup comes in 3 varieties: 1) Light amber is made early in the season when the weather is colder and is mainly used for making maple candy and maple cream; 2) Medium amber is a bit darker and a stronger maple flavor – it is the most popular grade of table syrup and is made after the sugaring season begins to warm, about mid-season; 3) Dark amber is darker and has a strong maple flavor and is made later in the season as the days get longer and warmer.
It may not be the best picture but you can see the different grades, beginning on the left with Grade A light amber; Grade A medium amber; Grade A dark amber and Grade B.
Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup usually is distilled from sap gathered later in the season. It is a darker, more robust product and has a strong maple flavor as well as some caramel flavor often used for cooking such as in Banana Cream Pie with Maple Syrup or baking and flavoring in special foods. I use Grade B for everything because that is what my family likes.
Michigan is a big producer of maple syrup with all of the maple trees we have in our state. Did you know that a maple tree is usually 40 years old or older to be able to produce sap. In fact, some trees have produced sap for 100 years or more.
Additional info added Nov. 5, 2016
Light amber color – delicate flavor, excellent on ice cream (Vermont Fancy)
Medium amber color – popular for table and all around use (Grade A)
Dark amber color – heartier maple flavor, popular for table and in recipes featuring maple (Grade A)
Darkest color – stronger maple flavor makes it the best grade for all kinds of cooking (Grade B)