Corn syrup and sugar are versatile sweeteners that you can use in everything from baked goods to barbecue sauce. It is important to know what each has to offer before you try to swap them out. Here’s how they compare in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does corn syrup differ from sugar?
The first important difference has to do with the forms that corn syrup and sugar take. Corn syrup is a liquid and sugar consists of fine crystals. The colors of corn syrup and sugar can differ as well. Light corn syrup is a pale yellow and dark corn syrup is a deep brown color, which comes from the refiner’s sugar (a type of molasses) used to make it.
Sugar crystals may be white as they are for white refined sugar, or they may be brown. Brown sugar gets its color from molasses so the shade of brown can differ depending on how much molasses was added.
Corn syrup and sugar have different flavors. All corn syrup is primarily sweet, but light corn syrup has subtle flavors from vanilla and salt. Dark corn syrup gets its taste from the refiner’s sugar so it has a mild molasses flavor. Corn syrup is not as sweet as sugar.
White refined sugar offers a neutral sweetness. It is sweet with no accompanying vanilla, salt or molasses notes. Brown sugar is mostly sweet but has a caramel note because of its molasses content. The darker the brown sugar, the stronger the caramel note.
Can you use corn syrup as a substitute for sugar and vice versa?
Corn syrup can stand in for sugar in many applications but with some important differences. In baked goods, you will need to adjust the amounts of ingredients to compensate for the extra liquid so the substitution won’t work in all recipes. You will need to reduce the combined total of all the other liquid in the recipe by about 1/4 cup for each cup of sugar that you replace with corn syrup.
Keep in mind that corn syrup is less sweet than sugar so you will need to use a higher amount of it to get the same degree of sweetness. Because of these differences, some experts recommend replacing only half or less of the sugar in a recipe with corn syrup. Light corn syrup also works best as a substitute for white refined sugar while dark corn syrup should be used in place of dark corn syrup.
Sugar can stand in for corn syrup in most baked goods, but you will need to add liquid to the recipe to make up for the fact that sugar contains none. Do the opposite of the formula above by adding a quarter cup of liquid for each cup of corn syrup that you replace with sugar. While you can add the liquid and the sugar separately, you can also make a syrup and use that as your corn syrup substitute.
To make the syrup, mix a cup of sugar and 1/4 of water and heat gently to dissolve. Sugar will not be a good substitute for candy-making and will not be ideal when making ice cream since it will crystallize.
When should you use corn syrup and when should you use sugar?
Use corn syrup for applications where crystallization would be a problem. For example, use it to make candies, ice creams and jams. Use sugar as an all-purpose sweetener in baked goods and for any other purpose aside from candy-making and in ice cream.