New maple syrup rules could be on the way

It can be sticky business trying to make sense of the different kinds of maple syrup. But there’s a movement afoot to standardize the rules. 

Grade A light amber, Grade B medium amber, Canada Number 1 Extra Light—different types of maple syrup are labeled clearly, but what’s the difference? Is Grade A better than Grade B? Regulations differ by state, but Massachusetts has no firm rules. Now the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association is supporting a standardization regime developed by an international trade group. Mathew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont syrup producers, says the proposed changes are about de-mystifying the whole system.

“Right now the Grade A dark amber doesn’t really necessarily mean anything on the face of it, you know, you have to know what that means. And so it’s nice when someone can look at something on the shelf and say ok, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s what I’m putting in my shopping car and that’s what I’m taking home.”

The new approach would divide varieties of syrup into categories like “Grade A, Golden, delicate taste” and “Grade A, very dark, strong taste.” The categories all relate to the relative darkness of the syrup, with the darker having more robust flavor. There’s a marketing strategy here, too. The plan does away with the term Grade B, which actually refers to a darker, more flavorful variety that is more expensive to make. 

Mathew Gordon again: “You wouldn’t buy Grade B beef, for instance.”

Maple syrup is big business in New England, Vermont produces over one million gallons a year; Massachusetts trails far behind with fewer than 100,000. Vermont producers would like the US Department of Agriculture to change the recommended national standards, but individual states would still need to adopt them officially. The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association says the new plan looks good, but it’s not lobbying for it. Coordinator Winton Pitcoff says smaller syrup producers may prefer to keep things as they are.

“There’s plenty of producers that sell everything that they make from their own farm stand, and if they feel that their consumers, their customers are best served by sticking with what they’ve known for a long time, then that may be what they choose to do.”

But no changes are expected in Vermont or Massachusetts for this spring’s maple syrup season.