According to federal regulations, there are four maple syrup grades based on both color and flavor. I, for one, wish that the U. S. Department of Agriculture would call the different types of maple syrup, well, types, not grades. “Grades” implies that one is better or purer than the other, which simply isn’t true.
What is true is that each grade has its own characteristic flavor, color and ideal usages, and grades mark difference, not superiority or ranking.
Grade A Light Amber, sometimes called Fancy Grade (and, in Canada, No. 1 Extra Light), is very light in color, almost the shade of apple juice. Its flavor is mild and delicate, and it’s usually the first made in sugaring season. It’s excellent on pancakes, especially buckwheat.
Grade A Medium Amber, a little darker, has a more maple-y flavor and is the most popular grade of table syrup, the one you’re likely to find in most supermarkets. It’s made a little later in sugaring time, after the weather begins to warm, in mid-season. It, too, is great used in typical ways: waffles, French toast, pancakes, etc.
Grade A Dark Amber is still darker. Its more pronounced maple flavor, which emerges later in sugaring season as the days get longer and warmer, gives you more bang for the buck. Although it’s great as a table syrup, it is really good to use in cooking, because the maple-ness, not just the sweetness, comes through loud and clear.
Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is a late-season product, and is the darkest. Strongest in maple flavor of all and a bit thicker than the A Grades, it, too, can be used as table syrup. But it is truly the premium cooking syrup; its essence-of-maple taste shines recognizably and beautifully in pies, cakes, muffins, mousses, bread puddings and even in sweet-savory glazes and barbeque sauces.
—By Crescent Dragonwagon