How can you tell if maple syrup is high quality?

Maple syrup is a popular pancake topping and natural sweetener that comes from the sap of maple trees. With various grades and flavors available, choosing a high-quality maple syrup can be confusing. Here are some tips on how to select maple syrup that is nutritious and delicious.

What Makes Maple Syrup High Quality?

High quality maple syrup has a complex, rich flavor and smooth texture. It is made from pure maple sap that comes directly from maple trees, without any artificial colors, flavors, or thinning agents added. The best maple syrup has a grading system that indicates quality:

  • Grade A Dark Color and Robust Taste – This syrup is produced early in the sugaring season. It has a strong maple flavor, with notes of caramel.
  • Grade A Amber Color and Rich Taste – Made mid-season, this grade has a milder but complex maple taste.
  • Grade A Golden Color and Delicate Taste- The lightest grade comes from the sap at the end of sugaring season. It has a sweet, delicate maple flavor.

High quality maple syrup also has the proper density and sugar content. Grade A syrup must have a density of at least 66% sugar. The best maple syrup contains no additives or preservatives. It is 100% pure maple sap that was concentrated through the natural evaporation process.

How to Identify High Quality When Buying

When shopping for maple syrup, check the label for a few key indicators of quality:

  • Grade – The grade tells you when in the maple season it was made. The earlier grades (A Dark and A Amber) are more nutrient-dense with a richer maple taste.
  • “100% Pure Maple Syrup” – This indicates no artificial additives or flavors.
  • Ingredients – Pure maple syrup contains a single ingredient: maple syrup or maple sap. No added sugars, thickeners, or preservatives.
  • Brix – 66% minimum – The Brix percentage refers to the sugar content. High quality syrup has at least 66%.
  • Production location – The best maple syrup comes from regions like Vermont or Canada where sugaring traditions are strong.

When tasting maple syrup samples in the store, look for complex flavor with notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and hazelnut. The texture should be thick and silky, not thin or watery.

Signs of Low Quality Maple Syrup

Here are some red flags to watch out for when evaluating maple syrup quality:

  • Made with “maple flavoring” instead of real maple sap
  • Contains added sugar, corn syrup, or other fillers
  • Has caramel color added to darken the color
  • Runny consistency or thin texture
  • Lacking in maple taste, with more of a plain sugary flavor
  • Artificial maple scent
  • Brix level under 66%
  • Not graded
  • Very inexpensive price point compared to pure maple syrup

Maple-flavored syrups are not the same as real maple syrup. They are made from corn syrup with maple flavoring added. Always check the ingredients list and look for the 100% Maple Syrup label.

Compare Nutrition Facts

The nutrition label also provides clues about the quality and purity of maple syrup. Here is a comparison of the nutrition facts panels of two major brands:

Maple Grove Farms, Grade A Dark Amber Log Cabin, Original Syrup
Calories: 52 Calories: 60
Total Fat: 0g Total Fat: 0g
Total Carbs: 14g Total Carbs: 16g
Sugars: 12g Sugars: 15g
Protein: 0g Protein: 0g
Ingredients: Pure Maple Syrup Ingredients: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and sorbic acid (preservatives), citric acid.

The pure maple syrup contains fewer calories and sugar per serving compared to the maple-flavored syrup. It also has a much shorter, simpler ingredient list containing just one natural item: maple syrup. The imitation maple syrup has added sugars and thickeners like cellulose gum.

Is Organic or Grade B Maple Syrup Better?

Some maple syrups are labeled as “organic.” Organic refers to the standards used in tapping the maple trees and collecting the sap. While organic is great, it doesn’t necessarily affect the grade or quality of the final syrup product.

Grade B used to be the standard grading system for maple syrup, but it was discontinued in 2015. Previously, Grade B meant darker, stronger flavored syrup with a higher mineral content. Now maple syrups in this category are usually Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong Taste.

The new grading system focuses more on the color and flavor profile than the timing of harvest. So Grade A Dark Amber syrup that comes from early season sap can be equivalent in taste and quality to the old Grade B.

Maple Syrup Grades Comparison

This chart summarizes the characteristics of the various maple syrup grades:

Grade Color Flavor When Produced
Grade A Golden Color and Delicate Taste Light golden Mild, delicate maple taste Late season
Grade A Amber Color and Rich Taste Amber Richer maple flavor Mid season
Grade A Dark Color and Robust Taste Dark brown Strongest maple taste Early season
Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong Taste Very dark brown Robust, intense maple flavor Early season

The early season Grade A Dark and Very Dark syrups have the most pronounced maple flavors and higher antioxidant levels.

How to Store Maple Syrup

An opened bottle of maple syrup will keep for about 1 year in the refrigerator. To extend its shelf life, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. Keep maple syrup in a tightly sealed glass jar or airtight container.

If crystals start to form in colder maple syrup, you can gently warm the jar in hot water to dissolve them. This won’t affect the taste – it is still perfectly safe to use. To prevent crystals in the future, store your maple syrup at room temperature rather than refrigerating it.

Signs that Maple Syrup Has Gone Bad

Pure maple syrup does not spoil easily, but it can grow mold if contaminated. Check your syrup for the following signs of spoilage:

  • Mold growing on the surface
  • Dark specks or spots
  • Fermented smell like wine or vinegar
  • Sour or bitter taste
  • Chunky texture

If you notice any of these warning signs, it is best to discard the maple syrup. Always store maple syrup in clean, sealed containers away from direct sunlight to maximize freshness.

Uses for Pure Maple Syrup

Maple syrup isn’t just for pouring over pancakes at breakfast. Take advantage of maple syrup’s complex flavor and nutritional benefits in all kinds of sweet and savory recipes:

  • Swirl into plain yogurt or oatmeal
  • Make maple vinaigrette dressing for salads
  • Brush on salmon, chicken or pork before baking
  • Add to barbecue sauce for grilling
  • Stir into coffee or tea instead of sugar
  • Use in glazes and marinades for vegetables
  • Substitute for granulated sugar in baking recipes
  • Sweeten smoothies, milkshakes and protein shakes
  • Flavour whipped cream or mascarpone


With so many maple syrup options on the market, it pays to know what to look for when selecting a high quality product. Seek out pure maple syrup graded as Grade A Dark/Robust Taste or Amber Color/Rich Taste for the best flavor and nutrition. Read labels carefully to avoid imitation syrups diluted with corn syrup or artificial flavors. Store your maple syrup properly in the refrigerator after opening. A 100% pure, grade A maple syrup will give you the signature maple taste and nutritional benefits you desire.

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