So many recipes call for simple syrup, but what is it and what’s the best way to make it? Should you just buy it instead, and if not, why?
Let’s dive deep into all things simple syrup and find out the answers to these and so many more syrup questions!
Hundreds of batches of simple syrup later…
I have been making drinks and my own simple syrups for many years, but I’ve been doing it professionally as a recipe developer since 2018. Since then, I’ve made hundreds (if not thousands) of syrups and learned all the ins and outs of the syrup-making process.
Learn more: How to store simple syrup
This post is a distillation of those years of experience and a guide that will give you all the info you need to quickly and easily make your own simple syrup (plus variations and flavored syrups, too!)
Once you know the basics, you can easily create your own syrups without the need for a recipe, so stick with me, it’ll be worth it.
Read about the best substitutes for simple syrup, no matter the recipe.
What is simple syrup?
The name says it all. Simple syrup is very simply a mixture of equal parts sugar and water. The result is a sweet, clear liquid that incorporates easily into drinks both hot and cold.
While sugar will quickly dissolve in hot drinks, simple syrup is the best way to sweeten iced drinks like coffees, lattes, iced teas and lemonades.
You’ll have a perfectly sweetened drink with a completely smooth texture, and no crunchy sugar crystals in the bottom of your glass or pitcher.
Simple syrup is a must-have ingredient for anyone interested in making their own cocktails or mocktails. It’s used in some of the most classic cocktails, such as the Old Fashioned, the Gimlet, and the Tom Collins.
In addition to drinks, simple syrup is also used in many other recipes, such as layer cakes. Simple syrup is brushed in between the layers to keep the cake nice and moist.
How to make it in just a few minutes
While many recipes on the internet indicate otherwise, making simple syrup is a quick and easy task that should never take more than just a few minutes! The most time-intensive part of the process is just stirring your two ingredients together until all of the sugar has dissolved.
While using hot water for your syrup will speed up the process even more, you actually do not need to. Even cold water will dissolve the sugar in just a few minutes of stirring.
This is especially helpful if you need to use the simple syrup right away, and don’t have time to wait for it to cool before you use it.
If you’re making a small batch (a couple of cups or less), don’t bother heating the water first. However, if you’re making a big batch of syrup, very hot water will speed up the process, require less stirring, and take less effort to make.
When you need a small amount of simple syrup and want to be able to use it quickly, don’t waste time with heating water or cooking the syrup in a saucepan. A simple mason jar is all you need. And a great benefit is that you can make and store the syrup in the container! Fewer dishes is always a plus, in my book.
A mason jar with a screw-on lid simplifies things even further. Add your ingredients to the jar, secure the lid, then shake/agitate periodically until all of the sugar has dissolved.
Why you shouldn’t boil simple syrup
A lot of simple syrup recipes say to bring the water and sugar to a boil, and to let the mixture boil or simmer for several minutes. But why?
While it is possible that a boiled simple syrup can last a bit longer in the fridge, this is the only benefit. When you boil a mixture containing water, some of that water is going to “boil off,” or evaporate.
It’s important that we don’t lose any water to evaporation when making simple syrup because water loss will affect how sweet our syrup is.
For example, an ounce of simple syrup that was made with one cup of water and one cup of sugar will be less sweet than an ounce of syrup made with three quarters of a cup of water and one cup of sugar.
A simple syrup left to boil for any length of time will translate to a sweeter syrup with a less predictable level of sweetness. Less predictable means unreliable. And an unreliable level of sweetness translates to less consistent finished drinks.
If you want to be able to reproduce the same drinks over and over and have them taste right every time, don’t boil your simple syrup!
Sometimes it is necessary to cook a simple syrup, such as when infusing it with a fruit, herb, or spice. We’ll dive more into when you want to cook your syrup in the variations listed below.
What kind of sugar to use
For basic simple syrup, use regular white sugar. This will give you a neutral-tasting, crystal clear syrup that will sweeten any drink without adding color.
For a richer taste, try using demerara or turbinado sugar. Demerara simple syrup is a great choice for craft cocktails and a popular ingredient in whiskey and rum cocktails.
The subtle caramel and molasses notes accent aged spirits perfectly, and they also complement black teas and coffees of all kinds. Demerara sugar produces a dark brown colored simple syrup
When making simple syrup, you can also use pure cane sugar (which produces a light brown colored syrup), light or dark brown sugar, or the minimally processed, molasses-rich muscovado sugar.
Try my holiday Spiced Simple Syrup Recipe.
What type of water to use
So you know that you just need sugar and water to make simple syrup, but does it matter what kind of water you use?
The short answer is no. You can use tap, bottled, spring, or distilled water, all with good results.
If you have unpleasant-tasting well water or other concerns with the tap water in your home, go with a bottled water of your choice.
Just like with ice, the better-tasting the water, the better the finished product will taste. I personally use Poland Spring for just about everything when it comes to drinks and cooking because my well water isn’t great.
How long does simple syrup last?
When stored properly in the refrigerator, simple syrup can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
To err on the side of caution, and because it’s so quick and easy to make, I usually suggest only making an amount of syrup that you’d use up within two weeks. Better to need to make more than to have to dump a large amount of syrup that’s gone bad.
How to know if your syrup has gone bad
Fortunately it’s really easy to tell if your simple syrup is good or not. First check the syrup’s appearance. If there’s any cloudiness or discoloration, it’s time to dump it and make a fresh batch.
I keep my syrups in glass jars and I’ll give the jar a gentle swirl to check if it’s still good. Sometimes the cloudy, moldy stuff settles at the bottom of the jar, so twirling the jar is a quick way to ensure that it’s still looking good.
If it looks ok but you’re not sure, you can also assess the smell and taste of the syrup. Any off scents or taste and you should just make a new batch.
How to make it last longer
You can extend the life of your syrups by adding an ounce or so of neutral-tasting spirits like vodka or grain alcohol.
Boiling the water you use for your syrup can also potentially help the syrup last longer. Just make sure that you boil the water before you measure it and mix it with the sugar.
Rich simple syrup
A variation of basic simple syrup is called rich simple syrup. This syrup is made with a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. The result is a sweeter, thicker syrup that adds a different mouthfeel to the drinks it’s added to.
Remember to use less when working with rich simple syrup. It is about 1.5x sweeter than regular simple syrup.
One great benefit of making rich simple syrup is that the greater quantity of sugar helps to keep the syrup fresher for longer. Stored in the refrigerator, rich simple can last at least a few months.
Simple syrup alternatives
Sometimes you want a sweetener without the added sugar. Whether you are trying to avoid processed sugars or minimizing calories or carbohydrates in your diet, there’s a simple syrup option for you!
White sugar alternatives
Make your syrup with less processed or raw sugars like pure cane sugar, turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, or muscovado.
Honey simple syrup
You can make a delicious and easy to use honey syrup for drinks by combining equal parts honey and water and stirring for a minute or so until all of the honey dissolves. Pure honey is hard to incorporate into cold drinks, but by diluting it with water, it will readily mix in just seconds. For a sweeter syrup, try rich honey syrup (two parts honey, one part water).
Zero carb, keto-friendly simple syrup
Today there are several excellent zero calorie and zero carbohydrate sweeteners on the market. Unlike the fake sweeteners of previous generations, these new options don’t have the characteristic artificially sweet flavor.
My top two sugar-free sweeteners are erythritol and allulose. These sweeteners can be easily purchased in most grocery stores, and of course on Amazon.
Erythritol is a little sweeter than allulose, but it has a tendency to crystallize quickly once heated. For that reason, my current favorite keto-friendly, sugar-free simple syrup is a mix of one to two parts allulose granules to one part water.
Allulose is much less sweet than white sugar, so you’ll want to adjust the amount you use to suit your needs.
Use hot water to help the allulose dissolve more quickly, stir, then store in a covered container in the refrigerator just like regular simple syrup.
Other sweeteners to consider in simple syrup are xylitol, stevia, monk fruit, and blends. These options are not my favorites due to taste. Xylitol is well tolerated by some, but it upsets my stomach. Stevia is great when used in very small quantities, but it quickly becomes cloying and almost bitter-tasting.
Flavored simple syrups
Now that you’ve mastered the simple syrup basics, let’s make some fun flavored syrups! It’s easy to add flavor to your syrup with fruits, teas, herbs, or spices.
Try my five minute Fresh Raspberry Syrup recipe!
Making simple syrups with fruit is a great way to preserve the flavors of the season or to use up extra produce before it goes bad. You can make syrups from just about any kind of fruit, but the process varies a little depending on your fruit of choice.
Ratio of ingredients for fruit simple syrups
Generally, a good rule of thumb when making simple syrup with fruit is to use: 2 parts fruit, 1 part sugar, 1 part water.
So if making strawberry simple syrup, you’d measure out 2 cups of chopped strawberries, 1 cup sugar of choice and 1 cup of water. Keep in mind that you can add more or less, depending on your preferences and the quality of the fruit. See what you like best and make it your own!
Flavored syrups with fresh fruit
It’s possible to make fruit-flavored syrups by simply muddling the fruit into a base of pre-made simple syrup. This will give you a syrup that tastes just like the fresh fruit. I love to use this technique when making raspberry syrup.
You can also press the fruit and just add the juice to the simple syrup base, or subtract some (or all) of the water from the simple syrup and replace it with juice. This is where things can become a little more complicated, but you can just intuitively adjust the amount of water in your recipe based on how sweet or watery the fruit is.
Watermelon is an example of a very juicy fruit that makes a great simple syrup by simply combining equal parts watermelon juice and sugar.
Cooked fruit simple syrups
You want to cook your simple syrup when you’re adding fruits, herbs, or spices that need some heat to release their flavors. Examples are apples, berries (if you want a jam-like flavor), rhubarb, ginger, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and rosemary.
For fruit, follow the 2:1:1 ratio and place the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until all of the sugar has dissolved, then bring the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes.
Remove the syrup from the heat and allow it to cool fully before straining out the solids. This step is important to extracting as much flavor as possible.
More syrup recipes:
Using herbs and spices
Most herbs don’t need to be cooked for very long in the syrup to impart their flavor. Rosemary tolerates heat well, but delicate herbs like mint fare better from being steeping in hot syrup.
For mint, basil, thyme, or lemon balm simple syrup, heat equal parts water and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring until all of the sugar has dissolved. The syrup should be hot, but does not need to be boiling.
Add your fresh herbs to the liquid and stir them in. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the liquid to cool fully before removing the herbs.
Spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla bean, and saffron are fine to cook in the syrup for 5-10 minutes, or longer if desired.
More syrup recipes:
Is it better to buy simple syrup?
No. Buying a bottle of simple syrup is silly because it costs much more than making it yourself. Bottled syrups are likely to have other ingredients in them too, like preservatives.
Some syrups are definitely worth buying however, like decadent gourmet chocolate or caramel coffee syrups, or the line of excellent cocktail syrups from Liber & Co. But if you just need basic sugar water, do yourself and your bank account a favor and stir up a quick batch of syrup at home.
Basic drink recipes that use simple syrup
These suggestions are just starting points. Add more or use less depending on your preferences.
Add 1 ounce of simple syrup to 1 cup of iced coffee, and add a splash of milk or cream of choice, if desired.
Add 1 ounce of simple syrup per 1 cup of tea
Combine 1 cup of simple syrup with 1 cup of fresh lemon juice, then stir in 6-8 cups of cold water. Add more water if desired.
Lemonade for one
Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour 1 ounce of simple syrup and 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice over the ice, then top with cold still or sparkling water (4-8 ounces, depending on how intense you like it)
Same as lemonade, but use ¾ cup fresh lime juice to every 1 cup of simple syrup. Limes are slightly more sour than lemons so Limeade needs a little extra sweetness for balance.
Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour 1.5 ounces of strawberry simple syrup over the ice and top with chilled sparkling water. Garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon before serving.
Basic Sour-style Cocktail
In a cocktail shaker, add 2 ounces of your spirit of choice (gin, vodka, rum, whiskey – anything works!), ¾ oz simple syrup, and ¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Fill the shaker about ¾ with ice and then shake until thoroughly chilled. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon or lime wheel.
Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour 1 ounce of flavored simple syrup and ¾ fresh lemon juice over the ice, then top with chilled sparkling water. Stir gently, then garnish with fruit and herbs that complement the flavor of your syrup.