Choosing Maple Syrup: What Grade Should You Buy?

The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
It is not a substitute for your doctor's care plan or advice.

Wondering what Grade of Maple Syrup to buy? Should you buy maple syrup Grade A, or Grade B, or.....I could never figure it out, but now I know -- and I also found out the truth about formaldehyde in maple syrup - yikes!

My family doesn't use a lot of maple syrup due to candida and eating more low carb (for sweeteners we mainly use stevia, xylitol, and some erythritol and coconut sugar), but we do use it occasionally and have some in our pantry right now. Over the years, I heard different things about What Grade of Maple Syrup is Best, or that you had to be careful about formaldehyde in maple syrup processing, so whenever I did buy maple syrup, things got pretty confusing. Today, Erin from Eat Real Stay Sane is here to address those concerns, and help us all know what type of maple syrup to buy, and she even has a great recommendation of a brand she trusts.  

We recently spent an entire week with my husband's family… and we almost ate ourselves to death.

They're terrific people, but OH BOY do they love sugar, canola oil, — and eating out. We're definitely the foodie oddballs among them and let's just say we felt gross after that week of gorging.

A tenet of our blog's brand (not just for our blog, but for life) is that we try to fret as little as possible about eating junk food. We eat so healthy most of the time that a little self-indulging ain't gonna open the disease floodgates.

The LAST thing we want to worry about on a rad family vacation is if we're being hoity-toity or difficult by turning our noses up at meals and desserts made by family. However, if there is an easy solution to eating healthier, we'll still take that route.

For example, my mother-in-law brought REAL, organic maple syrup for us while we were there! We had pancakes several times that week, and she wanted to accommodate our real food hippy-ness.

Thanks Mom!

But why maple syrup? How does it compare healthwise to other sweeteners out there?

And should you buy Grade A or B?

And what about formaldehyde in the processing?  Yikes!

Let's dive in.

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What is real maple syrup?

Before I became a real foodie, I had no idea there was such a thing as fake maple syrup. It's amazing how much I didn't know about food. Now that we have been using the real stuff for years, the fake stuff almost makes me gag. If the fake stuff is my only option, I go the “drown-in-butter” route.

This is the ingredient list of Mrs. Butterworth (fake) syrup:

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Molasses, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Polysorbate

So… basically there is no actual maple syrup is in their syrup.

Just high fructose corn syrup, GMOified corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. What in the world is your body going to do with all that stuff that isn’t actually food?

I don't think we want to find out.

Compare that ingredient list to Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup:

Organic. Maple. Syrup

Now that is what I like to see!

Just one simple ingredient which is exactly what you should expect from maple syrup.

Why should you use real maple syrup?

We love to drizzle maple syrup on our pancakes and waffles (who doesn’t right?), in our homemade yogurt, over oatmeal, as a glaze, and sometimes in recipes that need a maple flavor. While we're big sucanat and raw honey users, maple syrup's flavor is distinctly perfect for certain foods and it's potentially healthier.

Pure maple syrup has more nutritional value than most sweeteners and has one of the lowest calorie levels (although we never count calories). It's got several minerals including potassium, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and selenium. In this study you can see that maple syrup has up to 24 different antioxidants, which is like unleashing an army inside your body to heal free radical damage and inflammation.

Here’s a more in-depth look of the nutrition information of pure maple syrup from the International Maple Syrup Institute.

If you’re going to add any sort of sugar to your diet, add something that actually provides some nutritional benefit. Eating healthy is all about balance.

For me that includes adding tasty natural sweeteners to my brownies or apple cinnamon dump cake. Can ya blame me?

I do want to throw out one caveat:

While maple syrup is miles better than its processed counterparts, it's still chock full of carbs. Use all sweeteners sparingly so as to avoid packing on the pounds or wreaking havoc on your blood sugar, or causing candida.

Wondering what Grade of Maple Syrup to buy? Should you buy maple syrup Grade A, or Grade B, or.....I could never figure it out, but now I know -- and I also found out the truth about formaldehyde in maple syrup - yikes!

The ABCs of real maple syrup.

I always thought it was weird there were different grades of maple syrup. For years I was told (and read in many places) that Grade B syrup was the best.

I always remembered it as “B for best”. I often read that Grade B contained more nutrients in it while Grade A involved more processing.

Last month, I went to go buy some more maple syrup and I couldn’t find Grade B maple syrup anywhere! Even the health food stores didn’t have any.

I decided to jump on the ol’ Google machine to find out where in the world my Grade B goodness went. Google told me that the whole maple grading system recently changed and Grade B no longer existed.

Nooooooo!

Great, now what am I supposed to buy? I hate when you find your one thing you love and it all changes and you have to figure out where your good healthy product went. I wonder how much time I wasted staring at all the containers of maple syrup trying to find Grade B that didn't exist anymore?

What is the best real maple syrup grade?

I was disheartened that my Grade B maple syrup had suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth. But I was determined to find the equivalent to the superior Grade B somewhere, even if it meant growing maple trees in my apartment and getting the sap myself. (okay, not really).

It ended up being pretty easy to find.

I went straight to the source and contacted Coombs Family Farms directly. They're the brand that I usually buy (and no they didn't endorse this post, they just put out a quality product). If you want to know anything about maple, these are the guys to talk to. I mean they should know since they’ve been tapping trees for 7 generations!

I first asked about what the nutritional differences are between the grades of maple syrup. Here's what they said:

The different grades of maple syrup have no more or less nutritional value across the board. The grade systems are put into place to classify solely the light transmittance (color) of the maple syrup, not its nutritional value.

Grade B is classified as that because of its darker color and stronger flavor which comes from being harvested later in the season when the trees start producing sap that boils down to a darker color. There was the false misconception that one grade was “better” than the other which was very misleading information. The University of Vermont did a study a while back to explore the nutritional differences, or lack thereof, between the different grades of maple which came up showing they are all the same across the board.

Okay good to know! And by the way, I love it when companies respond to my inquiries thoroughly and don’t try to sugar-coat answers… pun intended.

Fired up by the awesome response, I went back for more.

Is there Formaldehyde in Maple Syrup?

I'd heard food companies process Grade A maple syrup with formaldehyde – sounds terrible, but honestly, would any ingredient surprise you in our foods today? Here's how they responded:

To address the concerns about processing and the use of formaldehyde/chemicals, that is a practice that has been banned in the US since the 1980's (banned in VT in the 1970's) and Canada recently about 10 years ago. The use of formaldehyde is illegal and can result in some serious consequences for farmers. Even though chemical (pesticides and fertilizers) are not commonly used on maple trees, by purchasing a certified organic product it is guaranteed there will be no chemicals found in the finished product or used in the process of harvesting the sap.

Maple syrup is not a “processed” product because the only steps involved in making the finished product involve boiling the tree sap to remove naturally occurring water, and the resulting product is what is bottled.

Typically a de-foamer is used during the boiling process to prevent excessive foaming of the sap while boiling. We use an organic sunflower oil at a rate of 1 drop per 30 gallons of sap. This oil gets cooked off during the boiling process and is not found in the finished product.

So, Grade A maple syrup and formaldehyde concern?

Turns out that no one uses the stuff for preserving frogs when making Grade A Maple Syrup.  Boy do we have low standards with food nowadays — can't believe that I even needed to ask that!

Grade B is Now Grade A

And as it turns out, “Grade B” is still around. There is simply a new name for it now – and Grade A is just as healthy anyway.

Here’s a quick guide for the new maple grading system (the right column lists the new terminology):

Old Name                                                                            New Name

Fancy or Grade A Light Amber                                             Grade A Golden and Delicate Taste
Grade A: Medium or Dark Amber                                       Grade A Amber Color and Rich Flavor
Grade A: Dark Amber or Grade B                                         Grade A Dark Color and Robust Flavor
Grade C                                                                                       Grade A: Very Dark and Strong Flavor

So basically  — just buy whatever type of maple syrup you want since the only difference is how much “flava” you want.

Just make sure you stick with a brand that's responsible and organic.

I like Coombs Family Farms because they are:

  • committed to sustainable forest management
  • certified non-GMO, and
  • their organic maple syrup is certified by QAI (Quality Assurance International), which is a step above being simply organic.

Moral of the story: go straight to the source if you really want to know the truth behind the products you’re buying. Companies are usually more than happy to answer your questions because they want you to buy their product!

How about you?
What grade and what brand of maple syrup is on your table?

camanderin160Erin and Cameron Smith, owners of Eat Real Stay Sane, teach people how to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes eating real food, eliminating toxins, and overcoming chronic illness. The secret for them has been to cook homemade substitutes of foods they like – but with healthy ingredients. Get their free ebook, “Guilty Pleasure Recipes Without the Guilt.” You can follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.

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  1. Sometimes buying organic means you’re paying extra when the quality in the non-organic option may be the same. I believe in many instances, that would be the case with maple syrup.

    My in-laws have made maple syrup for years, once producing enough that they were selling in multiple stores, some local and some a little further away. Unlike some foods that are often sprayed with chemicals, maple trees don’t get that sort of treatment. Being somewhat familiar with the maple syrup process, I may never buy “organic” maple syrup, because, from my understanding, probably most or all of the syrup out there IS essentially organic, regardless of what the lable says. I really tend to think you’re paying more for an expensive label (because the producers took pains to become certified).

    I’m really glad you know that the grades aren’t a nutritional difference. I had that impression as well before I was married, and then I think my syrup-making hubby called that into question.

    • Thanks for a very interesting comment, Tiffany – I have heard the same thing about popcorn, interestingly enough — that there is no GMO popcorn b/c there is no way to genetically modify it. I still buy organic, though, b/c I am not certain about it.

  2. I have used Real Maple Syrup my whole life. My parents were into real and organic in the 70’s (all the stuff people are getting goggly eyed about these days…). I am not nearly as clean an eater as I probably should be, but with a large family and one income it can be hard! That said, I don’t skimp on maple syrup. EVER! The fake stuff is so disgusting to me that, if I cannot get the real deal, I choose something off a menu that doesn’t require syrup! Even my kids cannot stand the fake stuff, so the tradition will go on. We generally get ours by mail order from VT or from a farmer here in IL, when we find him at the Flea/Farmer’s Markets

  3. Since visiting Vermont I have loved real maple syrup and now I buy from a couple different Vermont maple syrup farms. It is worth the extra cost as far as I am concerned!

    • I’ve never been to Vermont. I bet it was lovely. Is there something special about the maple syrup there?

      • I’m not sure if it’s especially better, I just love the state, so I buy theirs 🙂
        It’s beautiful there, hope you can see someday! 🙂

        • I hope so too. I used to live on the East Coast and I think was only in New England briefly as a young girl and then again briefly when looking at colleges.

          • I enjoy your blog and I believe you are the one that helped me decide where to buy essential oils and I use several of your recipes. 🙂

          • Thanks for the kind words. I love the oils and use them every day. More to come on the company in the near future….so stay tuned :).

    • Yeah! The Coombs Family Farms syrup is from Vermont. 🙂 My family took a huge vacation across the US when I was in high school and we visited Vermont and it was definitely a beautiful place. Wouldn’t mind visiting there again.

  4. Judith Martinez says:

    My dad was born and raised in sheperd, MI a small town that still holds a maple syrup festival every spring. My mother was raised on homemade sugar syrup. In spite of her tendency to be more health food oriented then typical for the times, I was raised on log cabin syrup. My dad liked that it actually had some real maple in it (not anymore from what I’ve seen) and my mom liked the milder flavor and lower price. I learned to make my own homemade sugar syrup like my maternal grandma but in homage to my dad’s side of the fsmily I cut it with real maple syrup when I can afford it. Delicious and way healthier then the artificially flavored corn syrup sold in the stores.

    • Yes, the real thing is pricey, that’s for sure. A maple syrup festival sounds like fun!

    • I totally agree with you that the real stuff is so much better in every way than the fake stuff. I want to go to a maple festival! Surrounded by maple everything would be like Heaven.

      I was at Costco today and saw that they had 100% pure organic maple syrup for $10.99 for a 33.8 ounce jug (in Utah). They had a non-organic maple syrup too. I haven’t tried it and I’m not sure what kind of quality it is, but it’s more than likely better than the fake stuff. That’s an option if you have a Costco near you! 🙂