Honey and maple syrup are often used as toppings, spread on toast or waffles, in sweet and savory cooking, baking, and to sweeten warm drinks.
Corn syrup, on the other hand, is used mostly to enhance texture in baking, glazes, and sauces, and to make candy. The sweet sticky syrup is a common ingredient in the holiday favorite, pecan pie.
So, what do you do when everyone’s mouths are watering for that pecan deliciousness, but you realize you don’t have corn syrup? You read the rest of this post and pick an easy alternative to avoid disappointment at all costs. No one will even know.
In this article, we will explore the best corn syrup substitutes to avoid a holiday letdown.
What is Corn Syrup?
Before we get onto the best substitute for corn syrup, it’s important to know what it is and what it is used for. This way you can choose the best replacement to suit your specific recipe, since not all alternatives will offer the same qualities.
The syrup is made from the naturally present sugars in corn. The sugars are extracted and turned into a liquid form. It comes in light and dark corn syrup varieties.
Light corn syrup is used in candies and glazes since it has a transparent color, fairly mild flavor of vanilla, as well as moderate sweetness. The dark type has a deeper caramel color and is sweeter due to the presence of molasses.
It is important to note that regular corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are not the same product. HFCS has been dealt a bad rap due to its highly processed nature and poor effects on health. It is mostly used by manufacturers of high-volume processed foods.
When corn syrup, which falls in the same classification as sugar, is further processed, the composition changes to form an even sweeter product known as HFCS. This is associated with inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It also increases your appetite more than regular sugars which can lead to obesity.
Although all forms of sugar should be consumed in small amounts, HFCS is a product that is best avoided altogether where possible.
How is Corn Syrup Used?
Since it is an invert sugar that is liquid at room temperature, it prevents crystallization. This makes it ideal for candy making as well as smooth, shiny glazes and sauces. It contributes to the creamy texture of frozen desserts and is used in jams, cookies, and frosting. In recipes like pecan pie, it not only adds sweetness but prevents sugar crystals and contributes to the setting of the filling.
When choosing a corn syrup replacement, consider the color, flavor, and what its purpose in your dish is, so that you can find the best match for the specific recipe.
Best Replacement for Corn Syrup
Sugar and Water
If you have sugar at home, you’re good to go with an easy substitution. As a replacement for one cup, all you need to do is dissolve one cup of white granulated sugar in ¼ cup of warm water. If you need the darker variety, use packed brown sugar instead of white.
Ensure that the granules are properly dissolved in the water before adding it to your other ingredients. Sugar crystallizes at high temperatures. This means that the sugar-water mixture won’t be a suitable replacement for hard candies that require heating beyond the soft ball stage at 235°F.
It is, however, ideal for pies, pecan pie, and glazed fruits. Since sugar has a neutral sweet taste it also won’t affect the flavor of your dessert.
You’ve probably noticed sugar crystals form in your jar of honey at some point. Like sugar, honey is not the best choice for making candy or caramel due to its crystallization properties, but it works as an ideal substitute in other recipes as a straight swap.
Honey comes in a variety of flavors, with lighter color honey usually having a milder taste. Some varieties with distinct floral notes will affect the taste of your dish, so keep that in mind when choosing this as a replacement.
Agave is made from the leaves of an agave cactus. With a color similar to that of maple syrup or honey, it is often used as a vegan alternative to honey. Once again, this is not a good choice for making candy, but it is a suitable option in most other recipes with its mild flavor.
Brown Rice Syrup
If you’re making candy or other recipes that need to be heated to hard-ball stage, this is a great alternative. The sticky liquid has the same chemical properties that prevent crystallization.
You can use this as a corn syrup substitute in equal quantities, just note that it has a slightly nutty taste which can lend itself better to certain flavor combinations than to others. It also has a slight yellow to light brown color which can affect the color of your candy.
This viscous golden liquid is a blend of water, sugar, and citric acid and is used in baking, candy making, as well as a topping similar to honey for pancakes, waffles, and even toast.
Use it in equal quantities regardless of the dessert you are making. It has a slight buttery taste, and the golden color may affect the coloring of your candy.
This popular Southern ingredient is a lighter, sweeter version of molasses with a brown color. It is made in the same way as molasses from sugar cane or sugar beet as a by-product in the production of granulated sugar.
It is not suitable for candy making as it may crystallize during the cooking process but is often used in recipes for baked beans, meat glazes, baking, and rum punch. Use it as a replacement in equal quantities for pies, cakes, toppings, and sweetening dishes or drinks.
Pure maple syrup is made from the sap of a maple tree, without any additions. Other types may include maple flavoring. Either way, you can use this as a replacement in equal amounts to add a delicious earthy, sweet maple flavor to pies, cakes, cookies, and sauces. If you are making candy, rather choose a different alternative.
This category includes syrups made from starches including whole grains, barley, cassava, potatoes, rice, and corn. Corn and brown rice syrup are both types of glucose syrup, but not the only types.
Glucose syrup is the ideal replacement for hard candy making (in equal quantities) as well as frozen desserts, chocolate sauce, and frosting. Commercially it is also used in beer making as well as for fondant, pre-made large-scale baked goods, and canned products.
This homemade recipe can be used as a substitute for most recipes including making marshmallows and fondant. The lemon juice is not compulsory as it may add a slight tart note to your mixture, but it is recommended since it prevents crystallization when stored.
Combine 2 cups of table sugar with a ¾ cup of water in a saucepan. Add ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Let the sugar dissolve and then switch down the heat to let the mixture simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce and thicken.
The best way to test it, is to use a candy thermometer and ensure it reaches 230°F / 110°C. The syrup should drip slowly off a spatula. As soon as it is ready, place the saucepan in a bowl of cold water. This will allow it to cool quickly. Once cooled completely, it is ready to use as a substitute measure for measure.
Cornstarch and Sugar DIY
If you don’t have cream of tartar, you can use corn starch, sugar, and water instead. Mix 2/3 of a cup of water with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a saucepan and let it boil. You need to keep stirring it to ensure no clumps form.
When the mixture becomes clear, add 2 cups of sugar, stir just to dissolve, and then let it cook down to the consistency of corn syrup, keeping in mind that it’ll thicken slightly more on cooling.
Optionally, you can add one or 2 drops of vanilla. To prevent crystallization during storage, mix in 1/8 teaspoon alum powder. Once cooled completely, it is ready to use as a substitute measure for measure.
Can people with corn allergies have corn syrup?
Corn allergies are not common, however, if you suffer from this it is advised to avoid all corn-derived products including corn syrup and HFCS.
Are molasses and dark corn syrup the same?
Molasses is a by-product of sugar production from sugarcane or sugar beet. It has a caramel-like flavor with a rich complex sweetness. Corn syrup is made from corn and has a more neutral sweet taste with less complexity.
What foods contain HFCS?
It is mostly used in soft drinks, fast foods, breakfast cereal, bread, baked items, sweetened dairy including yogurt, candy, canned soup, and canned fruit.
Whether you don’t have corn syrup on hand or need a less-processed corn syrup alternative, there are a few substitutes to choose from. Pure honey, agave nectar, and pure maple are the least processed, most natural liquid sweeteners you can use as a replacement in baking, glazes, sauces, and pies.
When it comes to making candy recipes, your best option is either brown rice – or glucose syrup since these won’t crystallize like most of the other alternatives. Now that you have a range of choices, you better get going with that pecan pie.