After over a decade of making my own simple syrups, I've come to have a few favorite flavors. This is one of them. After all, I grew up in the 90's: the time of Warheads and Sour Patch Kids. 😛 This quick and easy syrup is reminiscent of sour lemon candies and packs a punch of lemon flavor into anything you add it to! When life gives you lemons, whip up this lemon simple syrup recipe and enjoy it in all of your beverages!
This syrup is the perfect way to incorporate the zesty flavor of lemons into almost anything! If you are a fan of sour candies, you'll love this syrup! Use it to make your own homemade limonata, or Italian lemon soda pop, which you can also use in this limoncello spritz recipe!Jump to Recipe
💕 why you'll love this lemon simple syrup
🍋 zesty and bright. This lemon simple syrup is perfect for incorporating bright, zingy lemon flavor into any drink you can imagine, from cocktails to coffee.
🙌 quick and easy. The bulk of the preparation time for this syrup is hands-off, meaning it’s great for a quick project or an easy recipe for cooking with kids in the kitchen!
🥷🏻 secret weapon. Your friends and family will wonder why your cocktails taste so much more flavorful thanks to this syrup!
- lemons - choose fresh lemons that are thin-skinned, if possible. For this recipe, you’ll be using the fresh lemon juice and the lemon zest, but not the entire lemon rinds. If you are able to use organic lemons, that’s also a great option. If you have access to meyer lemons, they’ll also work wonderfully in this recipe!
- granulated sugar - regular granulated sugar is perfect for simple syrups. However, you can definitely swap out the sugar for your favorite sweetener of choice. Using a natural sugar or darker sugar will impact the flavor of the finished syrup, so sticking with white sugar is recommended. I would not recommend using artificial sweeteners, as their sweetness level varies wildly among them. If you want to use honey, a good rule of thumb is to use ⅛ of a cup less honey than sugar.
- filtered water - other lemon syrup recipes out there don’t use water in them, but this one does. Why? Lemon juice is super acidic, bordering on bitter, and while the addition of sugar does help to balance that out, I’ve found that using filtered water really rounds out the flavor of the juice by diluting it a bit.
Some water will get cooked out, but it’s still a more well-rounded lemon syrup. If you prefer a stronger flavored syrup or aren’t put off by bitter flavors, feel free to omit the water in this recipe!
See recipe card for quantities.
🍋 How to choose the best lemons
Choosing produce can be tricky. Lemons stay fresh for quite some time when stored properly, so it can be hard to tell which lemons are the best for your recipes. Here are a few tips for selecting the freshest lemons you can.
- color - look for bright yellow lemons with no blemishes, dark spots, or bruising.
- feel - give the lemon a gentle squeeze. If it's very hard, select another lemon. A ripe lemon should have a slight squeeze to it, but it should not feel "squishy."
- weight - lemons should feel heavy for their size. If they are lighter, they are not as full of juice and can be past their prime.
🍳 instructions for making lemon simple syrup
Step 1: Peel or zest 2 lemons. Be careful to only include the lemon zest, not the white pith which can be bitter.
Step 3: In a small saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups of sugar with ½ cup of filtered water.
Step 2: Slice and juice your lemons to get 1 cup of lemon juice. This may take anywhere from 4-6 lemons, depending on the size and juiciness of your lemons!
Step 4: Bring the sugar water mix to a low simmer over medium heat, until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Step 5: Add in 1 cup of lemon juice and allow the mix to cook at a medium simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Step 6: Leave the saucepan on the burner, but turn the heat off, and add in the lemon zest or peel. Allow the mix to infuse for 15-30 minutes. It’s okay if you forget it for a little while.
Step 7: Strain the mix using a fine mesh strainer, and discard the zest or peel.
Step 8: Store your lemon simple syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze it for longer storage.
Hint: Don't have a microplane zester? You can use a vegetable peeler or a pairing knife to get the zest off the lemon.
💡 tips & tricks for getting it right
🍽️ serving tips
Simple syrups are best used in beverages because they are so thin in consistency. This makes them perfect for using in both hot and cold beverages! Since it is so thin, it doesn't work well for topping desserts like ice cream or on breakfast foods like waffles and pancakes. You can still use it on food, but just be aware that it will be thin and may soak into porous foods quickly.
This is the perfect lemon simple syrup for all your favorite cocktails! It works especially well in rum, tequila, gin, and vodka-based drinks! Okay...it also works well with whiskey! If a lemon pairs well with it, this lemon simple syrup will pair well, too! Here are some ideas for you!
- lemon whiskey sours - this sweet and zingy syrup adds extra depth to a classic cocktail!
- lemon drop shot or lemon drop martini - if you had one too many of these sweet and fruity lemon vodka shots in your 20's, try turning this classic shooter recipe into an elevated martini for your next dinner party!
- lemon gin fizz - a gin fizz is a classic cocktail that benefits from a dose of sweet lemon flavor!
You can also use this lemon simple syrup for mocktails and other non alcoholic beverages. Here are some ideas:
- extra lemony lemonade - This syrup is a great way to boost the lemon flavor in your lemonade! Substitute all (or just half) of the sugar in your lemonade recipe for lemon simple syrup!
- homemade lemon soda pop - try out this recipe for Italian lemon soda!
- lemon iced tea - use it to sweeten any flavor of iced tea! You can also add it to hot tea!
Keep baked goods moist:
This is also a great lemon syrup for cake! Imagine this brushed on top of a lemon loaf cake, or as a glaze on lemon poppyseed muffins! 🤤 It would pair wonderfully with this lemon white chocolate cake from my friend, Tasia!
Homemade shave ice topping:
This syrup works very well as a homemade shave ice topping!
ℹ️ troubleshooting tips
- Make sure to add in only the zest, which is the yellow part of the peel, and not the pith, the white part of the peel, or you could end up with a bitter syrup.
- If you allow your syrup to cook for longer, it will be thicker, like a rich syrup, and the flavor will be more intense. It will also be considerably sweeter and may not mix as easily into beverages with just a spoon. Thicker syrups are great for using on desserts, though!
- If your syrup has a metallic taste, your pans and tools may not be non-reactive. Metals like aluminum can impact the flavor of acidic foods like this lemon syrup.
⚖️ Scaling Tips
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to make a large batch, perfect for gifting to family and friends. If you double the recipe, be sure to use a larger pot, so you have room for the ingredients! Then, you can use a cute glass bottle or glass jar to gift homemade lemon syrup to family and friends!
🔆 top tip
Use the freshest lemons you can find to make sure the flavor is clean, bright and not overly bitter! If you decide to use another variety of lemon, like Meyer lemons, you may want to reduce the sugar by ⅓.
♻️ substitutions & variations
Missing an ingredient? No problem. 🙆🏻♀️ Check out these tried-and-true substitutions, or comment below with your question. I’m here to help you troubleshoot!
- meyer lemons - Meyer lemons are a thinner skinned lemon variety, so they are much less bitter and even have a slight sweetness to them. They are darker yellow-orange in color, too. If you are using meyer lemons, reduce the amount of sugar you use from 1 ½ cups to ¾ cup.
- use another citrus - no lemons on hand? This recipe works well with other citrus varieties like limes and oranges!
- use another sweetener - you can use another sweetener if you prefer, like brown sugar or demerara sugar for a deeper, more caramelized flavor. I would not advise using artificial sweeteners for this recipe, and if you opt to use a liquid sweetener like honey or agave you will need to adjust the amount you use since they are sweeter than granulated sugar.
Feeling like a rebel?! 😈 Feel free to stray from the recipe card using these variations, or leave me a comment with your own!
- minty - add in a handful of mint leaves for a lemon-mint syrup that is sure to be perfect for your beverages!
- berry - add a handful of your choice of berries, or make a berry version of this syrup like my blueberry simple syrup or strawberry simple syrup.
- ginger - lemon and ginger pair so well, so adding in a small amount of ginger would give this syrup a great flavor!
🧰 equipment needed & storage tips
🧰 tools needed
- non-reactive heavy-bottomed saucepan - you can use whatever saucepan you have on hand, I love this 1.5-quart saucepan from All-Clad. The heavy bottom ensures even heating throughout the cooking time, and non-reactive metal ensures that your pan doesn't impart a metallic flavor to your syrup.
- stainless steel mesh strainer - a fine mesh strainer helps you to separate the lemon zest from the liquid after simmering the mixture. Make sure your fine-mesh sieve is made of a non-reactive material, like stainless steel.
- airtight storage - you can use any airtight container you like. These OXO squeeze bottles are a favorite of mine for storing symple syrups because you can also stash them in the freezer. These glass bottles are great for gifting simple syrups to friends and family. You can also use a mason jar!
- measuring cups - For glass measuring cups, I love using Anchor-Hocking brand cups. They stand up to temperature changes without shattering, and I never have issues with the pour spout.
- silicone spatula - a silicone spatula is a great tool to use for making simple syrups because it doesn't absorb or give off flavor while heat-cooking. It also stays cool to the touch, so you don't need to worry about it getting too hot to hold. I love using spatulas like this one from GIR. Another bonus? It doesn't absorb flavors (unlike a wooden spoon).
- juicer - while you do not need a fancy electric juicer, they do make the job a LOT easier, especially when you are juicing so many lemons. I finally splurged for this citrus juicer, which is comparable to the one the Great Ina Garten uses. When I first used it, I wondered what took me so long to get it. If you want a more economical manual juicer, you can use a handheld citrus press like this one.
🛠️ The right tools for the job:
- Aluminum can react to acids and impart a metallic taste, even when you’re just quickly straining a liquid! Wood can also absorb flavors from cooking, whereas silicone tools can be left right in the pot when things cook.
- Use pots, pans, and strainers that are non-reactive, like stainless steel. Additionally, I recommend using silicone utensils instead of wooden or metal tools. Enameled cast iron is also a great choice!
- The best bet for a pure lemon flavor is using non-reactive tools, like stainless steel, enameled cast iron, and silicone.
Store your simple syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.
For longer-term storage, you can pop your syrup in the freezer in a squeeze bottle or portion it into ice cube trays.
Don’t be concerned if your syrup doesn’t fully freeze. This means the sugar content is higher than the water content. You can simply scoop out the cubes and mix them into any beverage you want, whenever you like!
🧐 what is a rich syrup?
A rich syrup is a syrup that has a higher sugar content than water content. This makes the syrup thicker and better for using on foods and in strongly shaken cocktails.
- Simple syrup has a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water.
- Rich syrup has a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, so if you use 1 cup of sugar, use ½ cup of water.
This will change the ratio of sugar to water, meaning if you want to freeze the syrup for longer storage, it won’t freeze completely solid. This can be useful for quickly defrosting the syrup, though! If you want to freeze rich syrup, opt to use a bottle over ice cube trays because things will get sticky.
Technically, no, you don’t. You can make a lemon syrup without using heat cooking at all, through the process of maceration.
I like using the cooking method because it’s quicker, even though you do get a few more dishes dirty. You will still need to strain no-cook syrup, so you’re going to have to wash a couple of dishes. I prefer to have a finished product within an hour, instead of waiting overnight or even multiple days, to use the syrup.
I advise only using the peel, or zest, and the juice. Sometimes using the pith of lemons can lead to a bitter flavor, so I opt not to include it. Depending on your lemons, you may be able to use the whole lemon during the infusion step of this recipe! If you want a sweet flavor with no bitterness, leave the whole rind out.
Usually, you’ll need between 4 and 6 lemons to get one cup of lemon juice. The number of lemons you’ll need will vary based on factors like the size and juiciness of your lemons.
Citrus varies widely in flavor. Because of this, it can be hard to establish a "baseline" for how much juice and sugar to use. The ratio in this recipe has been tested multiple times and yields a flavor similar to sour lemon candy. You can increase the sugar by ¼ cup at a time until the flavor reaches a balance you like!
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Lemon Simple Syrup
- 300 grams granulated sugar 1.5 cups
- 113 grams water ½ cup
- 230 grams lemon juice 1 cup, from 5-6 lemons
- 6 grams lemon zest 1 TBSP, from 2 lemons
- Wash and dry your lemons to remove any dirt or residue.
- Zest two lemons to get 6g of zest (1 TBSP).
- Slice the remaining lemons and juice them to get 230g of lemon juice (1 cup).
- Combine 113g of water (½ cup) and 300g of sugar (1.5 cups) in a nonreactive 1.5-quart saucepan and place it over medium heat.
- Once sugar has dissolved and the mixture is simmering, add the lemon juice and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, add the lemon zest, and allow the zest to steep for 15-20 minutes. You can leave the pan on the burner while you do this.
- After 15-20 minutes, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Store the mixture in a airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Food safety is an important ingredient in any recipe for success! Here are some tips to keep you safe in the kitchen!
- While you can allow this syrup to sit at room temperature, don’t leave it out for longer than 4 hours at a time. This helps to inhibit bacteria growth that can happen from the sugars in the syrup. Read more about the temperature danger zone here.
- Use sterilized containers whenever possible. You can sterilize your containers by boiling them briefly, running them through your dishwasher with the sterilize feature activated, or pouring boiling water into the containers.
- While you may be able to use your simple syrup longer than 2 weeks in the fridge, if you see any sort of cloudiness or dark spots in the syrup, throw it out. This is mold growth and is not a recipe for fun.
- Never leave simmering syrup unattended on the stove.
- If you use honey to make this syrup, avoid feeding it to children under the age of 1.