What should you make of all the classifications on your maple syrup’s label? If it has an organic designation, that means the maker produced it without synthetic chemicals and uses practices that encourage the long-term health of forest ecosystems.
As for the different grades of syrup: Yes, they all taste different. The nature of maple sap—and the syrup made from it—changes throughout the season, starting out light and deepening in color (see photo at left). The USDA changed its grading system earlier this year to correspond with the syrup’s seasonal shifts. In general, the darker the grade, the more intense the flavor and the higher the syrup is in vitamin B2 and manganese, as well as calcium, potassium, and zinc.
Golden, pale-yellow syrup is made from sap collected early in the season. It has delicate notes of vanilla bean and brown butter; use it to sweeten whipped cream. Madava Farms in Dutchess County, NY has a superior version.
Amber, red-gold and rich, is a midseason syrup that's delicious on pancakes. Try a bottle from North Family Farm, which uses solar and wind power to make its syrups.
Dark late-season syrup is thicker, with a bold flavor that stands up to braised pork.
Order online from Coombs Family Farms or pick up a bottle at your local Whole Foods Market.
Very dark syrup, produced latest, has an intense maple taste and a molasses-like color. Swirl the smoky syrup from Deep Mountain Maple into baked beans.