Everybody’s doing end of year “best of” lists so here’s mine. The award for the silliest food-related news of 2014 goes to… Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. We’ll let them explain it in their own words:
For years, Vermont maple syrup has been divided into one of four grades based on color and flavor. As consumer preference has changed over the past century, so too has the grading system evolved to provide a more accurate description based on consumer preference. The names of each grade, however, did not necessarily provide a meaningful description of the syrup. For instance, with no prior knowledge of maple syrup grades, Grade B does not mean much other than suggesting it would be a lesser quality than Grade A.
Beginning in 2014, Vermont maple syrup producers will start using a new grading system that will provide a better description of each grade, or class, of syrup. Each grade will state a color and a flavor descriptor:
Grade A: Golden Color with Delicate Taste
Grade A: Amber Color with Rich Taste
Grade A: Dark Color with Robust Taste
Grade A: Very Dark Color with Strong Taste
I kid you not. This is not a transcript from the Jon Stewart Show. Those are the association’s own words on their website. And, since all syrup is now Grade A, they have to spell out the distinctions on the labels resulting in the ridiculous complexity shown above. One can also see how the old names were so much simpler, more descriptive and in general superior. “Fancy” is the perfect name for the version of the product that is most refined and least flavorful. And Grade B has always been the delightful secret code for “best”.
Being in New York, I prefer our native syrup to Vermont’s though truth to tell I find the taste very consistent from one brand to the next (of course, I always buy Grade B). Seems like our state could seize a competitive advantage simply by keeping the old system but it’s apparently not to be.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Agriculture Canada, the USDA’s counterpart in Canada, also are expected to change their grading systems in 2015 to mirror the ones adopted in Vermont, says USA Today. Which means meaningful syrup labeling will go away in the coming year and our food lives will be just a wee bit more confusing. Happy New Year.