April 9

8 Best Corn Syrup Substitutes – For Candy, Baking and Glazes

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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Corn syrup is a critical component to so many recipes that you might assume it would be simply disastrous to run out of it; my mother taught me never to exhaust my supply of garlic or corn syrup!  

But in fact, several other ingredients can be substituted in its place with excellent results.

Consult the Reference Table and recommendations below to determine how to make the perfect find the perfect corn syrup substitute for your particular recipe.

Enjoy!

On-the-Go Reference Table

What is Corn Syrup?


Corn syrup is a viscous, shiny liquid used in baking and candy-making. Unlike the much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the corn syrup available in the grocery store’s baking aisle consists entirely of glucose. 

Although both syrups originate from corn through the breakdown of starch into simpler sugars, HFCS undergoes an additional step that converts part of that glucose into fructose, causing it to taste even sweeter. 

Corn syrup has many excellent properties. It boosts the shine in chocolate and caramels and intensifies sweetness. It also traps water from the air, helping keep baked goods soft and moist.

Corn syrup is known as an invert syrup; this is a special category of syrup that resists recrystallization, making it useful in candy-making. Caramels and candy made from corn syrup stay smooth for a long time without becoming grainy or lumpy from unwanted sugar crystals. 

Most of the products that substitute for corn syrup share the first several properties (gloss, sweetness, and water-binding). However, only some are also invert sugars.  Consult the On-the-go Reference Table above to make sure you are using an appropriate substitute!

Corn Syrup Substitutes

1) Agave nectar


Produced from the filtered, concentrated fluid in the leaves of agave plants, it may reach up to 90% fructose. Some people report a rash from consuming agave nectar. 

Similarities: It may taste noticeably sweeter than corn syrup, and it also has a thinner texture.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio to achieve a similar effect.

Flavor Notes: Mild, sweet, neutral

Suggested Dishes: Baked goods, salad dressings, clear glazes; not appropriate for candy-making.

2) Maple syrup


Made from the concentrated sap of several maple tree species, maple syrup consists primarily of sucrose and has a recognizable flavor that includes hints of vanilla, wood, nuts, and fruit. Darker colors indicate a more powerful taste.

Similarities: It is an excellent substitute if your recipe calls for dark corn syrup, especially if you have deeply colored or strong-flavored maple syrup.  Maple syrup is often thinner than corn syrup but works much the same way in a recipe.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Vanilla, rum, nuts, caramel

Suggested Dishes: Baked goods, spiced cakes, winter vegetables, glazes; not appropriate for candy-making.

3) Cane Syrup


A staple in southern kitchens, cane syrup is similar to molasses. It is part of the liquid that is left over after white sugar has been refined.

Similarities: Cane syrup is similar in texture and moisture-holding capacity to corn syrup (especially dark corn syrup), but it has a much more intense flavor.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Molasses, burnt, earthy, rich, coffee.

Suggested Dishes: Baked beans, gingerbread, rye, or whole wheat bread; should not be used for candies and caramels.

4) Simple Syrup


A cup of sugar dissolved in ¼ cup of warm water will make a thick, viscous liquid that closely mimics the properties of corn syrup. 

However, you CANNOT use this simple syrup for candies or caramels unless you take additional steps to make it an invert syrup (see below).

Similarities: You will find the taste and texture of simple syrup a very close match for corn syrup. If you need a substitute for light corn syrup, use white sugar.  If it is dark corn syrup you’re missing, use brown sugar to make the simple syrup.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Sweet without additional flavor notes.

Suggested Dishes: Baked goods, dressings, glazes; not appropriate for candies, caramels, or chocolate.

5) Honey


Composed of a mix of glucose, fructose, and a little sucrose, honey is a natural invert sugar produced by bees as a form of concentrated flower nectar. 

The nectar spends time in the bees’ digestive tracts, where it is exposed to an enzyme known as invertase, which hydrolyzes large sugars molecules and breaks them into small monosaccharides. As a result, honey resists recrystallization for a long time.

Similarities: Honey has approximately the same sweetness as corn syrup, and its viscosity and other properties are extremely similar.

Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio.

Flavor Notes: Honey often has floral and fruity aromas that complement many desserts.

Suggested Dishes: Caramels, candies, ganache, candy fillings, bread and rolls.

6) Brown Rice Syrup


Derived from brown rice, this straw-colored syrup comprises maltose and maltotriose, with only about 3% glucose. This sugar composition is slightly less sweet than corn syrup, which is pure glucose.

Similarities: Despite the difference in sweetness, which some people may find preferable, brown rice syrup has excellent viscosity and water-binding properties, and it also functions as an invert syrup.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio.

Flavor Notes: Slightly nutty and toasty.

Suggested Dishes: Cakes, cookies, other baked goods; will work for caramel and candy but may not be sweet enough.

7) Golden syrup


Also known as light treacle, golden syrup is a bright, flavorful byproduct of sugar processing. It is almost exactly half glucose and half fructose, meaning it is barely sweeter than corn syrup.

It has a unique and noticeable taste of its own, and it is the main ingredient in the famous British desserts treacle tart and sticky toffee pudding.

Similarities: A nearly perfect substitute for corn syrup in most applications, golden syrup is an excellent match in sweetness, viscosity, and as an invert sugar.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Rich, buttery, caramelized

Suggested Dishes: Lovely for caramel and chocolate work; perfect for baked goods, adequate for hard candy.

8) Homemade invert sugar


Invert sugars take table sugar, which consists of the molecule sucrose, and use enzymes or acid to split (or “invert”) it into the smaller molecules glucose and fructose. 

At home, you can do this by making a simple syrup with...

  1. 1 cup of sugar dissolved in ¼ cup of warm water.  
  2. Then, stir in ½ tsp lemon juice, ¼ tsp cream of tartar, or ¼ tsp invertase enzyme (found in specialty confectionery shops).
  3. Boil the mixture, washing down the sides with a brush, to 230F.  
  4. Pour it into jars and allow it to cool completely before sealing it with a lid.
  5. Label it with the date; the invert sugar should last several months before it shows signs of crystallization. 

Similarities: Food made with homemade invert syrups won’t have quite as long a shelf-life as one prepared with corn syrup.

Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Sweet, with no additional flavor notes.

Suggested Dishes: Caramel, candy, chocolate truffles.

Frequently Asked Questions


What can I substitute for light corn syrup?

Any of the options on the list above are appropriate alternatives for light corn syrup in a pinch. However, cane syrup and maple syrup are probably more suitable substitutes where the recipe calls for dark corn syrup.

How to make corn syrup substitute?

One substitute for corn syrup that you can make yourself is known as simple syrup.  It consists of a 4:1 mixture of sugar and water; in other words, dissolve one cup of sugar in ¼ cup of water.  This mixture is not an invert sugar; do not attempt to use it in candy-making! However, you can make your own invert sugar at home; refer to the instructions above if you must take this step.

Concluding


Not only are there several alternatives to corn syrup, but some of them confer unique flavors and properties of their own! Maple syrup in a pecan pie or honey in dinner rolls cover the functionality of corn syrup but also add their own magic.

With the list above, you may just discover your next “secret ingredient”! If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below 🙂

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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