Dark corn syrup is a sweetener made with a kind of molasses called refiner’s sugar. It is used to help baked goods retain moisture and its ability to resist crystallization in candies and frozen items. Dark corn syrup is easy to find in most parts of the United States, but it may be difficult to locate elsewhere in the world. Whether you have run out unexpectedly or can’t find it in your local grocery store, here are a few dark corn syrup substitutes to try:
Your best bet: Make your own dark corn syrup
The best DIY dark corn syrup option is a combination of light corn syrup and molasses. These two ingredients are mostly the same as those in the bottled dark corn syrup that you might get in a grocery store. The commercial ones such as Karo Dark Corn Syrup are made with a product called refiner’s sugar, which is a form of molasses. Add 1/4 cup molasses to 3/4 cup light corn syrup to wind up with a substitute that will look, taste, and perform almost exactly like store-bought dark corn syrup.
Another homemade alternative is to mix molasses with pancake syrup. This substitute will also look and perform like dark corn syrup because pancake syrup (as opposed to real maple syrup) is primarily light corn syrup.
Molasses can also be combined with agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and honey to create less effective dark corn syrup substitutes. If you want to use dark corn syrup to make ice creams or candy, these substitutes (except for brown rice syrup) won’t be ideal since they will crystallize, but they will be perfectly fine for pecan pies and other baked goods.
A decent second choice: Light corn syrup
Take the refiner’s sugar from dark corn syrup, and what you’re left with is light corn syrup. Light corn syrup provides sweetness and resists crystallization, just like dark corn syrup. In many recipes, the difference between the two boils down to which you prefer. For example, pecan pies can be made with either. It depends on whether you want the molasses flavor for a particular application or not.
The big downside to using light corn syrup in place of dark corn syrup is that it will not provide the deep brown color or molasses flavor to your dish. These can be positives if you want to make something that does not have either of those characteristics.
In a pinch: Light molasses
As the sweetest and palest type of molasses, light molasses makes a decent substitute for dark corn syrup. Sugar is extracted from sugarcane by boiling sugar cane syrup. The syrup is boiled three times, and molasses is what is left behind. The molasses left behind after the first boiling is light molasses.
Light molasses is more flavorful than dark corn syrup. Unless you want your food to have a strong molasses taste, you will need to use less light molasses than your recipe specifies for dark corn syrup. You may need to compensate for the reduced sweetness by adding a liquid sweetener or sugar and increased liquids.
A simple syrup made with brown sugar can do a reasonable job of standing in for dark corn syrup in some recipes. It won’t be as effective in sorbet recipes or candy-making, but it can work in many baked goods.