Whether your pantry is out of sugar, or you’re avoiding sugar in your diet, sometimes you need a substitute for simple syrup. Don’t despair – there are many great simple syrup alternatives, no matter what kind of recipe you need it for!
What is simple syrup?
Simple syrup is very simply a mix of equal parts water and sugar. If you’re interested in making your own syrups for drinks, pancakes, or even cake-making, check out my in-depth Complete Guide to Simple Syrup and learn how to store simple syrup.
Simple syrup is made by dissolving sugar in water that is typically warm or hot (to speed up the process). However, you can also very easily make syrups with alternative sweeteners or purchase other sweeteners like honey or maple syrup to use in the same way. Let’s get in to
Top five alternatives
If you’re looking for a closer-to-nature alternative to sugar syrup, honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar are great options. Here are my top five sweeteners to sub for simple syrup:
Honey is made from the nectar of flowers, thanks to hard-working bees. The process begins with a blossom, and the type of flowers will determine the final flavor of the honey.
Honeybees use their long tongues to extract the nectar and then hold it in a secondary stomach until they return to their hive. Next, they pass the nectar from one bee to the next until it reaches the honeycomb.
There, it will be gradually lose moisture and become the thick, sticky substance we’re familiar with. Although humans have been enjoying honey for ages, bees make and store it for themselves to eat during the winter months when nectar isn’t available. It’s delicious, golden, floral bee food!
The flavor of honey can vary dramatically depending on the flowers that the bees extracted the nectar from. Generic brands of processed honey are typically blended for uniform flavor and color, but this kind of honey is generally much less flavorful than less processed or single origin honeys.
If you’re a honey fan, I highly recommend trying some of the wonderful varieties offered by Bee Seasonal Honey.
If you’re looking for something more mild and neutral in flavor, those generic honeys sold in the plastic bears should fit the bill.
To make honey a suitable substitute for simple syrup, combine equal parts honey with warm water. Stir until all of the honey dissolves and you’ll have honey syrup. Diluting the honey like this will make it so much easier to incorporate into other liquids, especially if you’re making a cold beverage like a latte, iced tea or a cocktail.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. Although the tree’s sap emerges as a clear, watery liquid, it contains about 2% sugar. The sap is collected from holes drilled into the trees and then reduced substantially (usually by boiling) until a thick, brown syrup remains.
The process of making maple syrup is called sugaring and the building where the syrup is made is called a sugar shack. The sugaring (maple tree-tapping) season takes place during the late winter / early spring. This is because the temperature fluctuations from night to day create pressure and allow the sap to flow easily.
One of the really cool things about maple syrup is that just about anyone can learn to make it. It’s an all-natural, vegan sweetener that is typically minimally processed and has a beautiful amber color. The flavor of maple syrup is characteristic and marked by notes of caramel, dried fruit, and vanilla.
Learn about the best substitutes for vanilla simple syrup
Maple syrup can be an excellent substitute for simple syrup if it’s diluted with water like honey. Simply mix equal parts maple syrup and water to create a suitable syrup. Keep in mind that some grades of maple syrup have quite a strong flavor, which will affect the taste of the dish or drink that you’re making.
Also called agave nectar, agave syrup is made from the agave plant. Agaves are the same plants used to make mezcal and tequila and they’re often incorrectly labeled as a type of cactus. This plant has been used in Mexico in a variety of ways for thousands of years.
The agave syrup sold in grocery stores is highly refined and typically doesn’t retain much flavor. Instead, it’s a very neutral-flavored, golden liquid that can be a great substitute for simple syrup.
In order to substitute it 1:1, be sure to dilute the syrup by combing it with an equal measure of water. You can also just cut the amount needed in half to account for the increased sweetness and thickness.
If health is a concern, however, agave nectar may not be the best choice. This highly processed syrup has more in common with corn syrup than honey or maple syrup.
Brown rice syrup
Brown rice syrup is an often overlooked alternative to simple syrup. It’s made from brown rice which gives it a unique, somewhat nutty flavor.
This less common syrup can be used in place of simple syrup if you compensate for its less-sweet flavor profile. You’ll typically need to use more brown rice syrup than you would standard sugar syrup. Most sources say to use about 25% more brown rice syrup, but it’s always best to adjust to taste.
Coconut nectar is a harder to find but excellent syrup to substitute for simple syrup. It’s made from the sap of the blossoms of the coconut palm tree, making it vegan and all natural. When the syrup is dehydrated, it’s sold as coconut sugar granules.
In terms of flavor, coconut nectar is somewhat similar to caramel, but quite mild. Although you might assume that it’s very coconut-y, it actually doesn’t taste like coconuts at all. This makes it a great natural, neutral choice for drinks, baking, and other applications.
Coconut nectar syrup is my top overall pick for a simple syrup substitute, but unfortunately it’s not readily available at most grocery stores. If you’re able to find coconut sugar, make your own simple syrup from that by combing equal parts coconut sugar and warm water.
There are other sweeteners that you can use in place of simple syrup, but their flavors can be a bit too overwhelming for most applications. This includes molasses and date syrup – both of which are incredibly delicious! If you enjoy the flavor and it goes with the rest of your recipe, feel free to swap in one of these natural sweeteners.
Date syrup is especially great for those with blood sugar concerns because it has a low glycemic index. This syrup is made simply from date fruits, making it an excellent choice for those looking for an all-natural option.
Simple syrup without sugar
If you’re looking to eliminate or minimize carbohydrates in your simple syrup, there are several easy fixes for that as well. You can easily make a keto-friendly, zero sugar simple syrup with alternative sweeteners.
The best zero carbohydrate sweetener is by far erythritol. This keto-friendly sweetener is technically a sugar alcohol and it occurs naturally in certain fruits as well as mushrooms and fermented foods like wine.
Unlike some other sugar alcohols, erythritol doesn’t tend to cause stomach upset. It’s flavor is neutral, making it an excellent substitute for sugar.
On the downside, erythritol is very prone to crystallization. This means that is doesn’t like to stay in syrup form for long. So while you can make a simple syrup with erythritol granules, it won’t take too long (usually less than 24 hours) before it will begin to solidify.
If you want to substitute erythritol for simple syrup, you should either use erythritol in granule or powder form, or make a syrup and use it immediately.
The second best zero carb, zero sugar option is allulose. Unlike erythritol, allulose won’t crystallize if you make a simple syrup with it. Like erythritol, it occurs naturally and is very unlikely to cause digestive upset.
The one downside with allulose is that it is much less sweet than sugar, so you’ll want to double up on allulose granules or powder when making a syrup. Combine 2 parts allulose to 1 part warm water and stir until all of the allulose has dissolved. Use just like you would use sugar syrup.
Other sugar free sweeteners
There are plenty of options these days for low calorie and low carb sweeteners. Some additional popular ones are monk fruit, xylitol, and stevia. You can create simple syrups with these sweeteners and the packaging will often tell you exactly how much to substitute for a 1:1 ratio with sugar.
These sweeteners are not ones that I recommend as good substitutes for simple syrup. Monk fruit and xylitol can cause digestive issues and stevia can be either cloyingly sweet, or have a bitter aftertaste. If you need a sugar free option, erythritol and allulose are the best options by far.
Here’s a recap with my top picks for substitutes in each category:
- Best substitute for drinks (neutral tasting): agave syrup or coconut nectar
- Best substitute for drinks (all natural): honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar
- Best all natural option for vegans: coconut nectar
- Best substitute for low carb diets: erythritol or allulose
- Best all natural option with a low glycemic index: date syrup
- Best substitute for adding moisture to layer cakes: agave syrup