Simple syrup and corn syrup are two versatile liquid sweeteners that are sometimes interchangeable but not always. Learn what makes them different and the best ways to use each in this edition of the SPICEography Showdown.
How does simple syrup differ from corn syrup?
Simple syrup and corn syrup come from different places. Simple syrup comes from sugar mixed with an equal amount of water. Some versions consist of two parts sugar to one part water. The sugar used for simple syrup is refined white sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. Corn syrup comes from the cornstarch in the endosperm of the corn kernel.
Simple syrup and corn syrup don’t look the same. Refined white sugar is colorless, so simple syrup is completely clear and resembles plain water. The clarity is a benefit since it means that it won’t distort the color of cocktails. Dark corn syrup is a deep brown that is similar in appearance to molasses. Light corn syrup is a clear, pale yellow type of corn syrup that is almost clear and has a similar appearance to simple syrup.
Corn syrup and simple syrup provide different tastes. Simple syrup is exactly what its name suggests: simple. It is sweet, with no additional flavors. The prominent flavor of corn syrup is sweetness, but light corn syrup has notes of vanilla with a little salt to enhance the sweetness. Dark corn syrup has notes of caramel. Note that simple syrup consists of sugar that has been diluted with water while corn syrup is relatively concentrated and, therefore, much sweeter.
Simple syrup’s chemical makeup is different from that of corn syrup. The refined white sugar in simple syrup is composed of fructose and glucose. The sugar in regular corn syrup is pure glucose. It is important to note that the regular corn syrup found on grocery store shelves is different from high fructose corn syrup, which consists of glucose that has been converted to fructose.
Simple syrup and corn syrup differ in how they affect health. Simple syrup has a moderate effect on blood sugar because it has a relatively low amount of glucose. Corn syrup has a high glycemic index rating because of its glucose content. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. The result is a spike in blood sugar and insulin. A diet that is consistently high in glucose will increase your risk of type 2 diabetes over time.
Can you use simple syrup as a substitute for corn syrup and vice versa?
Simple syrup mixed in the standard 1:1 ratio will not be sweet enough to stand in for corn syrup. Even a 2:1 ratio with twice the amount of sugar still won’t be as sweet as corn syrup. As a result, it won’t be a good substitute unless you are trying to cut down on the sweetness in a recipe, and even then, it will still lack some of the properties that corn syrup would provide.
For example, it is not an invert sugar like corn syrup. This means that it won’t prevent crystallization. One of the main reasons corn syrup is used in candies and frozen treats is that it keeps crystals from forming, thus ensuring a smoother consistency.
Corn syrup can be diluted to stand in for simple syrup in many cocktail recipes. The vanilla notes in the flavor may be unwanted in some drinks but should work in many others.
When should you use simple syrup, and when should you use corn syrup?
Use simple syrup for cocktails and other beverages where you want a clean, simple sweetness. Use corn syrup in candies and ice creams where you want a smooth consistency.