The lightest and mildest syrups, which are generally harvested at the beginning of the season, are called "fancy grade A" or sometimes "grade A light amber"; At the middle of the spectrum are "grade A medium amber" and "grade A dark amber."
Finally, there's "grade B", the dark, thick syrup that packs a strong maple punch with caramel undertones. It's also called cooking syrup, as it is more commonly used for cooking and baking, rather than serving at the table with a stack of flapjacks.
As the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association says,
It's strictly a matter of personal choice. Ask yourself these questions: Which is better, white wine or red wine? Which is better, light beer or dark beer? Beer can probably be compared most easily to the different maple syrup grades/flavors. A light Pilsner beer has a light color and delicate flavor, while a Stout or Porter has a very dark color and strong flavor. It's strictly a matter of personal choice, and there isn't one grade of maple syrup that is "better" than another.
We've been pouring the grade B on our pancakes for a couple of weeks now, and find that we need far less syrup (thereby consuming less sugar). Grade B will make your baked goods more maple-y, and it's sensational in ham glazes.
Until recently, it was hard to find grade B, as it was primarily sold to manufacturers. But we've found grade B at farmer's markets, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and King Arthur Flour.
We've got a stack of baking on our to-do list (what a problem to have!) but we're still thinking about Laura Ingalls' maple candy.
What grade of maple syrup do you have on your breakfast table?