What's the Best Grade of Maple Syrup?

Grade A, B, or C---what is the best grade of maple syrup to buy? If you've wondered that, you've come to the right place because we're going to talk about what all these maple grades mean, and get to the bottom of this sticky (pun intended) situation!

Bottles of varying grades of maple syrup lined up

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 health-wise 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.

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.

Does Maple Syrup Have Health Benefits?

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 also 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 no bake brownies or oatmeal 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 and doesn't really have that much nutrition in it. Use all sweeteners sparingly so as to avoid packing on the pounds or wreaking havoc on your blood sugar that can lead to other problems.

A cup of maple syrup and a bottle of it in the background

What Are the Different Grades of 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 the 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 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 Vermont 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?

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30 Comments

  1. You are a bulldog. Adrienne - we appreciate your doing our research for us. I found Coombs Family Farms syrup @ Vitacost and have been enjoying it for the past few years. All the information they shared with you makes me even more committed. Thank you, and thank the Coombs family for their openness.

    1. Wow thanks for the kind words! You know that's so funny you wrote that b/c my old IT help said the same thing. Not sure I like being compared to a dog but in this case, I'll take it LOL.

      Actually this post was originally written by another blogger, but I believe I made some changes to it. I don't think she is writing any longer.

      Thanks for the encouragement! More to come.....a few recipes first, possibly, but I'm working on some new things.

        1. My reply was supposed to be a smile emoji...love that your dog was your IT specialist. My granddog often sits on my lap while I type.

  2. It is interesting that you shared Grade A maple syrup is actually a healthy option. My family and I love pancakes with maple syrup but we were thinking of cutting down on our sugar intake. I will recommend Grade A maple syrup to my wife and see how it goes.

    1. The author wasn't saying that it's healthy re: sugar intake--it's a discussion about what grade you might want to buy if you are buying maple syrup. Hope that helps!

  3. Thanks for all the information! It was really helpful! There isnt enough information about food out there. It's important to know what your consuming... especially during these times! But then again... who is reliable? So RESEARCH like this helps. Thank you!

    1. You are so welcome. I can't personally take credit for the post but thank you so much for reading and hope to see you around again!

  4. There is, on average, 2.26 times the calcium and 2.76 times the phosphorus in very dark syrup compared to amber syrup. All maple syrup contains a host of minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron, though very dark syrup may boast around 27% more total mineral content than its lighter alternative.

    If it's darker and stronger flavored,… what are the 'elemental' qualities which make the syrup so?
    If it's more concentrated in flavor, darker,… is there a difference in sugar content? A difference in mineral content? What accounts for the darker stronger flavor? Just neutral 'flavors and colors' of no mineral significance?

    Let's be thinkers.
    Look that up online.

    Sincerely,
    Scott

  5. Ok, but,… with a stronger flavored maple syrup, the darkest grade available I would figure, one would be inclined to use less.
    I find all maple syrup 'too weak', but I haven't had the two darkest grades, as I understand. OB Peoples in San Diego used to carry a darker grade. It's a been nearly four years since I last had any from their bulk tank,…. and today was the day. It may be the same, it's dark, but, it seems weaker,…. I want it to be strong in flavor,… the sweetness is kinda too much,…. - I use it on rolled oats and rolled kamut porridge. Of course I add salt too.
    I swear, people prefer the strong stuff, but, they don't know better because it's not offered.
    Sincerely,
    Scott

  6. I am Gods power Bassey by name, I live in Nigeria. I want to order for the marlpe syrup,please which shop online can I go to.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. All popcorn and corn based products are GMO. Corn is modified to be larger as the natural product is very, very small compared to what you are used to seeing. GMO doesn't equal bad the way you were trained to think it is.

        1. Hi there. If you are going to leave a comment and then leave a nonsense email, that's a big tip off that you are just here to cause trouble. There is lots of indication on the internet that popcorn isn't GMO - yet. I have done a lot of reading on GMOs and I do not wish to eat them based on what I have read. If you want to, that's your decision. I want to know what I am eating and prefer things natural as our bodies should work best dealing with things in their natural format. I think that makes obvious common sense. Thanks.

  8. 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

  9. 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!

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

      1. 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! 🙂

        1. 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.

          1. 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. 🙂

            1. 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 :).

    2. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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! 🙂