What Is Simple Syrup?

Basil-infused simple syrup
" basil-infused simple syrup" ( CC BY-SA 2.0) by  robanhk

Also referred to as "sugar syrup," simple syrup is a liquefied form of sugar that is commonly used to sweeten cocktails, iced tea, iced coffee, lemonade and other cold drinks. Because it is a liquid sweetener, it is much easier to blend into cold beverages than regular sugar.

Simple syrup can also be used to sweeten foods, such as fruits and baked goods. It is usually drizzled over desserts or used to glaze them.

Although you can buy simple syrup from specialty grocery stores and some liquor stores, it is much more economical to make your own simple syrup at home. It is truly a simple process to turn sugar into a syrup, a process that's achieved by boiling it with water.

Typically, the ratio of sugar to water falls between 1:1 to 2:1. The mixture is simmered for around 10 minutes, usually until the liquid has reduced to about half its original volume. Thus if you used one cup water and one cup sugar, or two cups total, you would simmer the mixture down to about one cup.

When stored in a sanitized, tightly sealed container (such as a bottle or a Mason jar) in a cool environment, simple syrup will usually keep for six months or more. To prolong its shelf life, you can add a small quantity of vodka (about one shot of vodka per two cups of simple syrup).

Variations on Simple Syrup

The most common variation on simple syrup is flavored simple syrup.

Flavored simple syrup is prepared by adding flavorful ingredients to the sugar-water mixture as you boil it or as it is cooling and then (if they are solid) straining the ingredients out.

Flavored simple syrups are commonly used to make specialty cocktails, quick lemonade, flavored iced teas, flavored hot or iced coffees and milk steamers.

They are a staple in coffee shops since they are used in most flavored coffee drinks and milk steamers.

Flavored simple syrups are also sometimes used as a topping on sliced fresh fruit, pancakes, cakes, other baked goods and ice creams.

Common flavors for flavored simple syrups include vanilla, ginger, mint, cinnamon and lemon. For more information on flavored syrups for coffee drinks, see this list of top flavored syrups for coffee.

Rich Simple Syrup

Demerara syrup or rich simple syrup is a simple syrup variation made with a type of light brown, raw sugar called Demerara sugar. Some prefer it because it has a richer flavor than traditional simple syrup. However, it has a brownish color, so it will alter the color of clear / light drinks (such as vodka-based cocktails or milk steamers). Similar variations on simple syrup are made with brown sugar or turbinado sugar.

In more experimental bars in North America, coffee bars in Japan and in parts of Europe, another variation on simple syrup is commonly used called gomme syrup or gum syrup. ("Gomme" is French for "gum.") It differs from regular simple syrup in that it contains gum arabic, a sub-Saharan tree sap which emulsifies the mixture and allows for a higher ratio of sugar to water without crystallization (which would give the syrup a chunky or rough texture).

Since it contains gum arabic, gomme syrup adds not only sweetness but a slight change in mouthfeel in drinks. The texture of gomme syrup is often described as "smooth" or "silky."

On the other end of the spectrum of simple syrups is an easy variation called bar simple syrup, made without boiling the mixture. To prepare it, you simple shake a bottle containing equal parts sugar and water until the sugar has fully dissolved. Although this preparation method is easy, it does not make as thick or flavorful of a syrup.

In the culinary world, another common variation on simple syrup is simple syrup gel. Simple syrup gel is made by adding pectin to the mixture. Plain and flavored simple syrup gels are commonly used as bases for fruit sauces, fruit preserves and topping for fruits and baked goods.

Basic Simple Syrup Recipes

There are slight differences in the batch size, recommended cooking times and temperatures, etc. in these recipes, but the basic principle remains the same.

Flavored Simple Syrup Recipes

Common flavoring agents for simple syrup include fruit, herbs, and spices. To make flavored simple syrup at home, you can use this basic fruit simple syrup recipe to create your own flavored simple syrups, or use the more detailed recipes below.

Simple Syrup Substitutes

Aside from the simple syrup variations listed above, you can also use agave nectar, honey or molasses. Unless you want a deeper flavor, a light honey variety is the best option as it will alter the flavor of your food or drink less than a dark honey, agave nectar or molasses.