Make Your Own: Basic Syrups

If you’ve looked at some of my Make Your Own articles you’ll have seen my take on simple syrup.

The beauty of the simple syrup recipe is that not only is it the easiest mixer to make but it also has the flexibility to work with virtually any form of sweetener.

IMG_0494My most recent exploration took the form of a 5 syrup run.  Basic simple syrup had already been done but I wanted to check the flavors on some of the other stuff out there to see how they compare.

In the picture here you can see the five finished products.  Bottom up they are Double Simple, Brown Simple, Turbinado Simple, Agave Simple and Clover Honey Simple.

In each case I followed a similar process to my original simple syrup test, using about 1/3 of a cup of each of the sweeteners.

Some things to keep in mind.  When you’re using fancy sugar, make sure you get the actual cane sugar.  Some brown sugars are beet sugar with caramel color and molasses added which is not the same thing as real brown sugar.

Some of the more liquid ingredients like agave nectar or honey don’t need quite as much water, but when you’re dealing with such small amounts it is hard to adjust so letting it cook slightly longer will allow the water to boil out and reach the right syrup texture.

As you can see, each of these gives a different color.  What you can’t see is that the flavors of each are very very different despite at least three of them all coming from the same source.


Bakers sugar is normal sugar with slightly smaller crystals so that it dissolves faster into liquids.  It’s still made in the same manner as regular table sugar there is just a finer control used in the drying process to make the crystals form faster and avoid clumping.  For the batch I made here Double Simple is a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.  The 2/3 of a cup I used here dissolved almost immediately and took only seconds to boil.  The result is a richer, much sweeter and slightly thicker syrup than basic simple.  This is useful in stronger drinks where you need to bring the sweet more quickly or small drinks where you don’t have the luxury of adding 3+ oz of syrup to the drink.

Brown Sugar is actually normal table sugar that has been fully processed out to the white form you normally see, and then portions of the molasses which is extracted from the sugar cane juice is re-added.  The amount added gives the brown sugar the notation of light or dark.  As I mentioned above, there are several cheap brands that use beet sugar and then add molasses.  They’re pretty easy to spot as most of their competitors say Cane Sugar all over the wrapper.  Brown sugar is slightly easier to use than molasses as it is considerably diluted by the combination with white sugar.

Turbinado Sugar is the form of sugar before the molasses is extracted in the first place.  Generally called Sugar in the Raw when you find it on the shelf, you can buy great bags of it from the more selective grocers.  It is more expensive as it’s not the kind of thing people generally use but you won’t use much of it at a time so a big bag can go a long way.  The crystals are larger, a bit more like kosher salt, and have a dirty appearance from the molasses still clinging to them.  They still dissolve fairly quickly but they do have a tendency to foam so stir carefully.

Agave Nectar is the sap of the agave plant.  Not actually a cactus, the agave is a wild growing cousin of the artichoke.  It can take most of a decade to flower and it only does so once per plant, so the plant stores up sap for years before making that one ultimate flower.  Wild agaves are generally clipped right as they start to send up their flower stalk which causes the base to swell, the plant can then be hacked down and tapped like a maple tree allowing the nectar to run for weeks before the plant expires.  This nectar is considerably sweeter than sugar or honey.  It is a fairly runny liquid, so after adding the water allow it to boil off for quite a while.

Honey – I feel almost silly talking about honey but there is something worth noting here.  There are varying degrees of pure honey on the market.  Some honey is adulterated with water, corn syrup or even coloring.  In some specific instances honey of different types is blended and sold as higher value honey.  There apparently aren’t a great deal of laws restricting the labeling on “pure honey” or “local honey”.  Even experts are in disagreement of how to easily test honey without screening it for pollen content.  As with anything I do, I try for real ingredients.  There are a lot of local honey producers in the area and a trip to one of the many farmers markets can find one easily.  Be a bit picky, and don’t always trust a higher price to mean a better quality.

IMG_0492For the batches I made above I needed to do some quick turn around.  If you’re making one syrup alone this isn’t really necessary but it can help a lot.

You don’t want to put hot syrup right into the fridge, and depending on how you plan to store it you might not want to put it right into the tupperware either.

In my case, I used two pyrex bowls.  One larger sized with some ice and water in it, and the second smaller one clean and dry.

After you put your sugar and water into the pan, mix thoroughly until it has all dissolved and then allow the mix to boil rapidly for about 15-30 seconds.  Longer if you’re using a liquid sweetener.  Then remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for another minute before transferring it to the cooling bowl.

This should move the syrup to room temp quickly and allow you to bottle it for storage.

As before, a 1/3 cup will give you a couple of ounces of usable syrup.  Generally enough to taste and experiment with to see if it’s worth making again.

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