Most maple syrup buyers assume bottles labelled "Canada No. 1" or "Grade A" offer the best grade of the product, but those classifications might not be to everyone's taste.

Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, says consumers are often misled by the labels and what they mean – or imply. 

"For people that were not familiar with maple syrup, they would probably want a dark amber Grade B," he explained. "But they saw the 'fancy' and thought that's the best, and grabbed it. But then they got home and used it and realized it doesn't have that strong a flavour."

In Canada, maple syrups labelled "No. 1" are top sellers, although consumers generally prefer the richer taste of "Canada No. 2."

syrup grades

Current grading systems for maple syrup aren't as straightforward as you might think. The highest grade has the mildest maple flavour. (Khalil Akhtar)

To avoid this confusion, Vermont is the first maple syrup producing jurisdiction in the world to adopt a new system of grading. All maple syrup there is now classified as Grade A, but descriptions of the syrup's colour have been added to help buyers understand the flavour in the bottle. 

Gordon says the historical grading strategy was based on the preferences of 19th-century consumers who relied on syrup as a substitute for sugar. 

"[They] weren't looking for the characteristic maple flavour that people want today. They wanted a sweet product that was almost devoid of flavour. The less maple flavour in it, the fancier it was, in that time, so the more flavourful syrups you get later in the season were designated as B or C."

Vermont may be the first locale to embrace a grading system for maple syrup to reflect current tastes, but Canada won't be far behind. Gordon estimated that all maple syrup producing jurisdictions could make the change by 2016.  

Gordon said shifts in the industry can be slow to come because of so many regional systems and small-scale producers. But the eventual goal is to help consumers choose the product they actually want, rather than what they think is best.

Clarifications

  • The first version of this story used the word "Fancy" as a sample label description. The word "Fancy" cannot legally be used on Canadian-produced maple syrup labelling. We have added external links to Canadian and Vermont regulation documents.
    Feb 04, 2014 1:00 PM ET