As someone who has been making homemade beverages for over 10 years, I’ve made a LOT of simple syrups. Sometimes though, a simple syrup I’ve stashed in the fridge has gone bad, and I don’t have a replacement ready to go for a recipe. So, what are you supposed to do when you’re out of simple syrup?! What is the best substitute for simple syrup, anyway?!
If you’re looking for more information about homemade simple syrups, check out this post here all about storing and freezing your homemade simple syrups. But what if you don’t have a simple syrup already made, and you don’t have the time to throw one together? Check out the menu below to reference specific parts of this post, or read on to learn about the best substitutions for simple syrup.
🤔 what is simple syrup?
Simple syrup is a mixture of equal parts of granulated white cane sugar and water. Most recipes combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water, and heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves. It is used as a liquid sweetener to help balance out the flavors in cocktails and mocktails, and you can also use it in your baked goods and pastries. I first learned about the glories of homemade simple syrup when I was in baking and pastry school. We used it to glaze pastries and keep layers of cakes moist and flavorful. Since then, I’ve been making my own seasonal variations of simple syrup to use in all my homemade beverages.
😅 do you need to use simple syrup in your drinks?
If a recipe calls for simple syrup, use it! 😇 When I first started making cocktails at home, I’d omit simple syrups because I thought it would make my drinks too sweet. What ended up happening was that my drinks always seemed to be lacking…something! Turns out, the simple syrup does more than add sweetness. Simple syrup adds a subtle sweetness to balance out the other flavors in cocktails and mocktails. On top of that, it really is easy to make yourself at home. You can your own simple syrup by using the heating method (my favorite method) or you can make it using room temperature water. Either way you make it, it lasts about two weeks in your fridge. You can even freeze it for longer storage.
🛒 homemade vs. store bought simple syrup
Homemade simple syrups usually consist of equal parts white sugar and water. Sometimes they include lemon juice or high-proof alcohol to help keep them fresher longer. Lemon juice also helps keep the flavor pure and bright. Store-bought simple syrups sometimes contain a lot more ingredients to keep the mixtures shelf-stable for longer. They can also be made with other sugar substitutes, like corn syrup. Sometimes, they don’t even need refrigeration. While there is usually nothing that is considered to be unsafe in these store-bought syrups, the additional ingredients can sometimes impact the flavor of the beverages you put in them. For that reason, I like making my own because I know exactly what's in them! Plus, it's easy and a fun way to get creative in the kitchen! 🤓
🏆 3 best substitutes for simple syrup
A quick note: These simple syrup alternative sweeteners are all sweeter than regular granulated sugar. When you're using these alternatives to sweeten a cocktail or non-alcoholic drink, make sure to start with half the amount the recipe calls for and then increase the amount from there as you taste it.
1. Agave Nectar
Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is the perfect simple syrup substitute as is. It is harvested from the agave plant (yup, same as tequila!) and it is light in viscosity. That means it’s the right consistency for mixing into hot or cold drinks with ease. 😉 It does tend to be a bit sweeter than simple syrup. This means you won’t need as much of it when mixing it into a recipe. As a general rule, you’ll likely need anywhere from ½ to ¾ the amount of agave in a recipe that calls for simple syrup. So, a good option is to start with less than you need and increase the amount if you need to. If your recipe calls for 1 ounce of simple syrup, use ½ ounce to start, then increase to ¾ ounce from there.
2. Honey Simple Syrup
Pure honey is a great choice for a simple syrup substitute. Sometimes it can be a little too thick to fully mix into colder drinks. Like agave, if you are using honey, make sure to start by using half the amount your recipe calls for, and increasing it afterward. The easiest solution is making a quick honey simple syrup! By heating water and then adding honey until it dissolves, you can make a flavorful honey syrup that can be used in place of simple syrup in any recipe. If you are using a honey simple syrup, you can use exactly the amount the recipe calls for, measure-for-measure!
3. Maple Syrup
Pure maple syrup is a wonderful substitute for simple syrup as is. It is a natural sweetener from the sap of maple trees, and you can find it easily in most grocery stores. The best part is that, like agave nectar, the consistency is just right too! You can use it straight out of the fridge without diluting it into a simple syrup. Like agave nectar and honey, you’ll want to use less maple syrup than simple syrup because maple syrup is sweeter. Start by using half the amount and increase it as needed. Maple syrup is a great option in classic cocktails that could benefit from the maple flavor of the classic pancake syrup. Cocktail recipes like an old fashioned or Moscow mule would be great with maple syrup!
♻️ other simple syrup alternatives
There are countless other alternative sweeteners you can use as a simple syrup substitute. Each one has its pros and cons. While I believe the best simple syrup substitutes are the ones listed above, it's all a matter of personal preference when it comes to flavor and dietary restrictions. Here are just a few options you have when it comes to switching out the regular sugar in a simple syrup recipe.
date syrup & brown rice syrup
These days, you can find alternative liquid sweeteners like date syrup and brown rice syrup pretty easily. These can be good alternatives to simple syrup, though they can have a stronger or more unique taste than cane sugar. Because of this, they may impact the final outcome of your drink recipe. They are also slightly thicker than simple syrup, making them denser and a little more difficult to mix into cold drinks like iced tea or iced coffee.
less refined cane sugar
Brown sugar, demerara sugar, and muscavado sugar are all different kinds of less processed cane sugars available today. They all make great substitutes for white sugar in most simple syrup recipes. Check out my recipe for brown sugar syrup here, and a recipe for demerara simple syrup here! You can usually find each of these at local grocery stores or specialty food stores. If you can't find them locally, you can find them easily at online retailers. Keep in mind, less refined doesn't translate to being a healthy substitute for processed cane sugar. Just because a sugar isn't as processed doesn't mean it has more health benefits. It's still sugar!
You can use artificial sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol to make a simple syrup. You can also buy premade stevia syrup or monk fruit syrup. These artificial sweeteners usually have zero calories. They are sometimes marketed as being a healthier alternative to sugar, but they have their downsides too. This article details how artificial sweeteners, even when labeled as "all natural" may not live up to their hype. Most sugar substitutes are actually much sweeter than sugar, making it difficult to achieve the same taste measure-for-measure in recipes. Therefore, if you are set on using sugar alternatives, it's best to find specific recipes made with those artificial sweeteners. And you won't find any of those here. 😅 From my perspective, artificial sweeteners or sugar alternatives can be even more processed than cane sugar. Between the processing and increased sweetness...you might as well just monitor your real sugar intake. Balance is key and life is short!
⚖️ weights of sugars and sweeteners
When scooping using a measuring cup, or measuring by volume, there really isn't much truth to "cup-for-cup" measuring. For instance, a cup of honey weighs 136g more than a cup of sugar. 😯 By that fact alone, if you simply measured out a cup of honey and used it in place of a cup of sugar when making simple syrup, your final syrup would be almost twice as sweet! Additionally, honey is about 25% sweeter than granulated sugar, so you need less honey to get the same amount of sweetness. So remember, it's always best to weigh your ingredients with a kitchen scale because it's much more precise. Here is a table of weights of sugars to reference!
😳 which simple syrup substitute is best?
When it comes down to it, the best substitute for simple syrup is the one you like. It's up to your own taste preference, so while I believe honey simple syrup or agave nectar are the best, you might like maple syrup better! Experiment on your own with a different sweetener to find the one you like the best! Each sweetener gives the final syrup different flavors, though some (like brown sugar and demerara sugar) can be super similar. The perfect substitute is the one that YOU like the most!