What determines the different “grades” of maple syrup?

What determines the different “grades” of maple syrup? What does this mean?
—Keith Addersall, via e-mail

In Canada, there are five grades of maple syrup: Canada No. 1 Extra Light, Canada No. 1 Light, Canada No. 1 Medium, Canada No. 2 Amber, and finally, Canada No. 3 Dark. (The US has a different classification system.) Different grades are typically used differently: Extra Light is preferred in candy-making; Light and Medium are the most popular as table syrups; and Amber is common in cooking. Dark is used commercially.

The grading system is based on the syrup’s colour—or, specifically, the amount of light transmission—not its quality. In general, the lighter the colour, the more delicate the maple flavour, but flavour may also vary by growing region, because of factors such as tree genetics, weather conditions, and processing techniques.

The upshot? One syrup isn’t better than the other. It all depends on your personal taste—or how mapley you like your pancakes.