Simple Trick To Make Simple Syrup

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Up until about two years ago, if you weren’t a bartender or a pastry chef you probably never heard of simple syrup. Then the mojito became popular, and all of a sudden bottles of simple syrup started showing up in the grocery store. And they cost more than the rum! For half the size!

I’m not about to pay eight bucks for a 10-ounce bottle of sugar water. Yeah, that’s all simple syrup is: sugar and water. (There’s a reason they call it “simple”.) You can make your own way cheaper, but it can be a hassle. Unless you know this little trick.

Ingredients


sugar

Directions

Instead of making the syrup and then trying to get hot syrup into a bottle, just make it right in the bottle to begin with. Using a funnel, fill a glass bottle halfway with sugar. Measure how much you add, and add the same amount of water. For my bottle it was three cups each of sugar and water.

If you’re a high school chemistry teacher, you may have done a demonstration something like this next part. If so, could you explain what’s going on? You can see that the water is sitting on top of the sugar, and comes right up to where the bottle starts to get narrower.

Tip the bottle on its side a little bit and air surrounding the sugar starts bubbling up, letting water down to mix with the sugar.

Once all the air has bubbled up, the level has dropped by a couple of inches. Keep that in mind when you see the finished product. (This doesn’t really have anything to do with the recipe. It’s just something interesting I noticed.)

Put the bottle, with no cap on it, in a pan filled with water, and put it over medium heat. You want the water just barely boiling.

As the sugar dissolves into the water, it loses the cloudiness. You’re done when the syrup is completely clear. Depending on how large a batch you’re doing, this could take an hour or more.

Remember how the water was up to the shoulder of the bottle when I first added it? And then it went down a couple of inches after the trapped air bubbled out? Look where it is now that it’s done. I know water expands when heated but this is wild.

Anyway … put the cap on and let the syrup cool down until the bottle no longer feels hot to the touch. Then put it in the fridge until you need it.

And that’s it.

Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    I make simple syrup when I’m having people over because unlike the majority of people in the South, I do NOT like Sweet Tea. I refuse to make it as well. So to solve the problem of sugar not dissolving in Iced Tea, I make simple syrup. Everyone likes it, because they like their tea at different levels of sweetness (bleh!) and this way they can tailor it to their taste.

    • That’s the best idea I ever heard. I guess I live under a rock. I don’t like sweet tea so I never make it and this solves a huge problem. Thank YOU!!

    • OMG…. thank you sooooo much! I am from the south too and do not like sweet tea. This is a fabulous idea and I plan to definately use it!

  2. onlinepastrychef says:

    It would never occur to me to buy simple syrup–I’ve harangued about it several times over at my place, too. I do so enjoy a good harangue 😉

    Interesting observation about the level in the bottle, Drew! I’m not a chemistry person, so I’m not sure what the deal is with that. Simple syrup is maybe not so simple after all… :)

  3. And what do you use simple syrup for besides sweet tea? I don’t drink tea, because I’m rather have water!

    • You can use simple syrup in morning coffee, over a nice summer fruit salad or like he said a mojito.

  4. Stephanie, are you allowed to say that? I mean, if you’re still in the South can’t they kick you out for not liking sweetea?

    Jenni, I’m disappointed. I was actually hoping you’d be the one to explain that.

    Linda, it makes the best lemonade and … a few other things I’ll be posting shortly.

  5. Simple syrup is fantastic for sweeting all kinds of iced drinks. I make quadruple-strength coffee (the trick is to get the water just to the “bubbles on the bottom” stage, pull it off the heat, dump in an enormous amount of coffee, and then strain as soon as it reaches a deep color – no bitter, all the caffeine and flavor) and then refrigerate. It’s poured over ice, cut with milk or half and half, and sweetened with simple syrup.

    It’s also good to sweeten iced tea, just like Stephanie said. My aunt-from-Texas says that it’s sweetened tea if the sweetner is added after. To be ‘real’ Sweet Tea, the sugar’s got to be added to the first heat and then leaves added afterwards. But then again she’s an even bigger snob than I am.

    Simple Syrup is also what one feeds hummingbirds. It’s also how many candy recipes begin. It’s also the basis of a lot of icings.

    It’s also how I geek the heck out in the kitchen. Dump 4 C cane sugar into a pot. Add 2 C H2O. Stir and heat. When clear, add sugar by the spoonful until the supersaturated liquid precipitates out sugar again (this amount differs depending on the humidity in your air and sugar). Then, while stirring, drip water in until the liquid clears. Ta-da! Supersaturated Syrup, a tablespoon of which will sweeten four cups of coffee or a dozen hungry hummingbirds.

  6. onlinepastrychef says:

    I knew it. Sigh. Sorry, Drew. It could be something like the dissolved sugar molecules take up more space than they do in a crystallized form, but I have no idea. I hate to disappoint. Sigh again.

    For Linda, let me also to what thpt said that a 1:1 simple syrup makes a good base for lemonade and a good place to start to make sorbet or fruit sauce. You can also make a flavored simple syrup by steeping whatever you want in it. I like citrus zest or mint, especially. Then, you can add sparkling water and make a naturally flavored soda:)

  7. And as a total deterrent to buying simple syrup (and grenadine), it’s all corn syrup based instead of sugar and water. If my drink syrups have more than two ingredients, there might just be a problem!

  8. Simple Syrup – even watered down as much as 4:1 – is great for hummingbirds too. Thanks for your blog.

  9. Can’t make a decent cocktail without simple syrup and fresh citrus juice. I use two parts sugar to one part water as well as a mason jar and 30 second intervals in the microwave. I find it’s faster than the stove method. I also add 1oz vodka as a preservative.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Drew, Considering that despite the fact I was born and raised in San Francisco, I can make chili, pecan pie & gumbo so well that both my father-in-law & husband (born & raised Houstonians) won't make them anymore, they let me pass on the sweet tea thing. :)

  11. thpt and John, I knew I could go with more sugar than the 1:1 ratio, but the sugar tends to settle out in the fridge if you go much higher than that. And I like to keep mine cold so it doesn’t melt the ice.

    r, ecch, grenadine. Yeah, I’ve noticed that. That’s why I’m a fan of the imported fruit syrups. Check out Kuhns Deli and search for “Adriatic”, or go to Adria Imports for Marco Polo brand. The sour cherry is a great replacement for grenadine.

    Mark, my wife is the one who feeds the birds. I just feed the creatures that look like me.

  12. ~~louise~~ says:

    Now why didn’t I think of that? I guess for the same reason some casual restaurants just don’t get it when a person has ten single serving sugar packets sprawled all over the table and the iced tea is still not sweet enough!! I always have simple syrup on hand. Just never thought to make use of your simple trick.

    Thanks for sharing…

  13. I keep a mason jar of simple syrup in the fridge during “iced tea season” for those who like their tea sweet. This is a much easier way to make it, and I don’t have to wash a pan! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Louise, ten packets? Ooookay.

    Amy, I’m all about reducing dishwashing.

  15. Anonymous says:

    now add some yeast and let sit at room temp to make alchohol

  16. Anonymous says:

    The level in the bottle decreases when the sugar and water are thoroughly mixed because there is still air between the grains of sugar near the bottom, and this air is replaced by water when the bottle is tilted.

    The level increases when the sugar is thoroughly dissolved is because, as Jenni hypothesized, the sugar molecules are now distributed evenly throughout the solution instead of being concentrated in crystalline form.

    As an interesting side note, even when mixing two liquids you can get an end volume less than the sum of the liquids’ two individual volumes. But that’s like, complicated, and I got a C in thermodynamics.

  17. Anon the first, I’ll let Mr. Smirnoff make the alcohol for now.

    Anon the second, if I were a high school science teacher, I would do this as a lab experiment, then take all the finished products home and put them in the fridge.

  18. Oh my gosh!! I was in the “Back Burner” Restaurant in Hockessin today and they have all the stuff you don’t find anywhere else… And there it was! “Little” Bottles of Simple Syrup for $10!!!!!
    UN_BE_LIEV_A_BLE!!!

  19. Barb, didn’t you almost think it was a typo on the price tag when you saw it? It’s craziness.

  20. dude, it’s way easier to just put sugar and water to a 1:1 ratio or less in a pot and boil it and THEN put it in a bottle it doesn’t take an hour it will take about 20 minutes even for a way larger batch, for what you made it would take 10 mins max, and if you want to cool it just pour it from one pot to another for a few times and you can then put it in a fridge, you will be ready for making cocktails in an hours time from when you started

  21. u can also use simple syrup to make some alcoholic drinks

  22. Mitz, if you’re in a hurry then you’re absolutely right. With this method:
    1) It’s nearly impossible to mess it up.
    2) You can set it up and walk away to do other things.
    3) You don’t have to clean a pot when you’re done.

    This isn’t something I do when I need it right away. It’s like canning spaghetti sauce; you do a whole bunch at one time so you have it when you want it.

  23. Funny Bone says:

    I’ll be using this recipe for making my bar syrup for drinks. Excellent
    FunnyBoneApparel.com

  24. Anonymous says:

    you really don’t even need to cook it; just combine equal parts sugar and water (by volume) and stir steadily or pour from one container to another repeatedly until it dissolves…no muss, no fuss. it’s as stable as you like.

  25. You need to cook it, or you won’t get the same taste. The syrup turns to a light shade of yellow, which is caused by caramelization. This process not yet fully understood, produces many byproducts responsibles in part for the change of taste.

  26. Well how about that. I thought the yellow color I was seeing was just a reflection from something behind it. I didn’t notice it “live”, but saw it in the photos afterwards.

  27. And this is why I like your blog so much, Drew… you are honest; you don’t pretend to know everything!

  28. Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how long it takes to research something I just learned and offer additional detail, making it sound like I knew it all along? I mean, I’ll do it every once in a while, but not every time. Jeez, I’ve got a life here.

  29. Anonymous says:

    isn’t the reason for the lower water level due to simple evaporation from the “barely boiling” temperature for “an hour or more”? just don’t think too hard about it.

  30. No, the level goes down when the air bubbles up out of the dry sugar and lets the water down. What I was noticing was that the level went up after the sugar dissolved.

  31. Bbq Dude says:

    Wow, I didn’t know people were actually selling simple syrup. That’s quite a scam…

  32. parrotheada1a says:

    Don't forget that this stuff can be used as a last second glaze for fresh fruit, or on BBQ chicken to make it look nice & shiny.

  33. I’ve got some leftover BBQ chicken that’s looking pretty dry and flat. I’ll have to give that a try.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Simple syrup can be brushed on cakes to keep them moist, too.

  35. Is that for cakes that you're not going to frost? Or just a quick step so it doesn't dry out while you're making the frosting?

  36. Anonymous says:

    I thought the scientific curiosity was about why the water sits on the surface of the sugar when pouring in the bottle. I'm not entirely certain, but it may have to do with surface tension of the water against the somewhat packed sugar crystals. It may be unfavorable energetically for the air to escape from in between the sugar crystals as it would require overcoming the water's surface tension. I may be off, but that's the only thing I can think of off the top of my head. Otherwise, air is (obviously) less dense than water and should rise to the top. Agitation probably disrupts the surface tension because the sugar crystals move around.

    As for the volume change, that's textbook chemistry. Crystalline form is the most dense natural state for compounds. Initial mixing means the majority of the sugar is still as dense as possible while surrounded by water. Once the individual sugar molecules are "free" in the solution, they interact with the water molecules maintaining a energetically favorable distance which is greater than the crystalline case. You'll find in life that mixtures often are greater in volume than the sum of their individual parts. I believe there are also cases of the opposite.

    Sorry to geek out on you all. :)

  37. No problem here with the geekery. I think you're exactly right on the surface tension in the first part. As to the increased volume of the solution, it may be textbook chemistry, but I didn't read the whole book. :-)

  38. Come on. Just put sugar in a bottle, add hot water either from the tap. Shake, done. What's so hard? Why even heat the bottle?

  39. Nuggetz, if you can get a cup of sugar to dissolve into a cup of water without heating, congratulations. I haven't managed it.

  40. Drew really, boiling water for an hour or more. That's got to be 8 bucks in energy right there. Just go buy it and save yourself the time. Or… put equal parts sugar and water in a pot, turn on high, and stir gently until all the sugar dissolves (syrup is clear). 3-5 minutes tops. Pretty simple.

  41. Kris, that was probably a poor choice of words. By "just barely boiling" what I meant was that you see bubbles break the surface every couple of seconds. Technically that's more of a simmer.

    And eight bucks in energy? According to this energy use calculator it's more like 10 cents. Yes, most things are much cheaper to make at home.

  42. Drew, of course I exaggerated the 8 bucks! My point is, why cook in the bottle when cooking in the pot is a lot quicker/cheaper? I'll emphasize quicker. I understand cooking in water baths gives a nice even temperature without scorching, but the solution is mostly water. You would have to keep it on the heat for a while before you caramelized/burned the sugar (Which may to be bad). If you're right there stirring it, there is no chance of this since you can pull it off the heat as soon as it dissolves. Pointedly, what is the advantage of cooking in the bottle?

  43. Kris, the whole reason is I don't want to pour hot syrup into a funnel. I've spilled it on me before. Ouch.

  44. Great recipe for simple syrup: get a block of cream cheese and a package of wonton wrappers. Get a knife and slice the cheese into 10 slices like you would a loaf of bread. pull out the wonton wrappers, line the edges with water, and wrap each cream cheese slice like you would any package (however it works best for you (fold-over, like an envelope, whatever). cover with a damp paper towel to prevent drying, and heat a skillet with at least a quarter inch of peanut or other high smoke point oil. Make lots of these, because they will GO. When the oil is hot (enough for anything you'd deep fry or pan fry) drop them in carefully and fry until golden. drain and pour a small bowl or cup of simple syrup. Dip the fried yummies into the syrup like you would fries into ketchup or any other dip-thing into a condiment, and EAT, baby! These are so good, you won't be able to NOT make them!

  45. Wordgirl, that's about the fifth recipe I've got now that I'm going to need wonton wrappers for. I guess it's time to go get some.

  46. Love this thread I have a sodastream carbonator and I live far from the one retailer that carries the syrup and S/H charges from the factory are too high. I am thinking simple syrup and a few well placed extractswould definately dothe trick. BTW Drew love your honesty and with a few ppl your patience with responses. Thanks for the recipe!

  47. Nobody mentioned this yet, but those fancy syrups you get in your latte’s at Starbucks are just simple syrup and flavoring.

  48. Mike, that’s not really surprising. But just for curiosity’s sake, how do you know? Did you work there and check out the ingredients?

    • Can’t speak for how Mike knows, but I can say this: The syrups at Starbuck’s and other food service places are either simple syrup and flavoring, or they are high fructose corn syrup based. If this is a concern for you (it is for us; my husband is allergic to the HFCS), then ask to see one of the bottles and read the ingredients list. It can vary widely from venue to venue, and depends on what brand of syrup the chain chooses to stock.

      • Erroneous says:

        Your husband is allergic to high fructose corn syrup? It’s in everything — what does the poor man eat?

  49. I have a lemon drop recipe that calls for superfine sugar. I’ve tried to find the quantity substitution using simple syrup. It’s not 1:1, is it?

  50. This past July I tried a drink called a “Skinny lemondrop” and loved it. It was very refreshing. I found a recipe for it today that called for sugar free simple syrup. The brand they used is not sold in my area. I was wondering if you could substitute Splenda for sugar in this receipe and have the same results?

    • Debby, it definitely wouldn’t be syrup. I’m not sure what would be in it.

      Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to use regular simple syrup? If it’s an alcoholic drink, there’s already plenty of carbs in it.

  51. Drew – actually, since vodka has basically no carbs, and lemon juice can be low(er) carb (depending on how much is used), it can make all the difference to use a sugar-free “simple syrup.” Great site and blog!

    Debbie – I have heard about people being unsuccessful with the Splenda simple syrup; someone posted a while ago about having success by using Splenda for baking instead of regular Splenda, and doing it 2 parts water to 1 part Splenda for baking. Simmer until reduced by about half. Also, DaVinci Gourmet makes an excellent sugar free simple syrup (called Sweetener Sugar Free Syrup). You can order it from their website.

    Kim – you’ve probably already got your answer (or figured it out) by now, but I use a 2 Tablespoons of superfine sugar = 1 oz. simple syrup ratio.

  52. Shannon, great set of tips. Thanks for sharing.

  53. this is kinda misleading. “how to cook like your grandmother” ?? grandma don’t do this. a simple trick to make simple syrup is to just make it. it’s simple to make simple syrup.

  54. Grandma probably made lots of things right in the bottle (or jar) that we usually buy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out this is a really old trick that I’ve just rediscovered.

    • I think you are right! “Grandma” knows all these tricks; many of us are too lazy to make such things and would rather pay over-inflated prices for the convenience to have it already made and neatly packaged for us. Too many of these “simple” things are being lost between the generations. Pass it on!

      Just wanted to share that while living in Okinawa, Japan for 5 years, we were accustomed to being served simple sugar with almost every cold drink ordered- especially with any iced tea. (Also, for coffee, they tended to serve raw sugar.) When we moved back to the States, we kept searching the tables and asking for the simple sugar; they looked at us like we had a third eye! I like to keep it on hand at home and guests love it!

  55. I never thought to do this. Now I don’t have to funnel my simple syrup into bottles when it’s boiling hot.

  56. bartendinglil says:

    This has been a very interesting conversation. With this in mind, do you suppose we might figure out how to make our own flavored syrups from here?

    • Julie L. says:

      WRT flavored syrups– it depends on what flavors you want and what you want to do with them.

      If you’re mostly planning to make cold drinks, it might be more convenient to make frozen sorbet. I always do this with cheap in-season fruit from the farmers’ market– it’s great for smoothies. You can either freeze the sorbet in ice cube trays, or make a large-scale batch with more sugar so it can be attacked with an ice cream scoop. There are multiple charts for almost every conceivable fruit sorbet in Harold McGee’s book The Curious Cook.

      (I first got interested in DIY sorbet when I got hold of some brand of fat-free chocolate sorbet, looked at the ingredients and nutritional info, and realized that its recipe had to be equivalent to a 1:1 mix of Hershey’s Syrup with water. I tried freezing a test batch, and it was practically identical. No ice-cream maker required– just mix, freeze, and eat.)

      Or if you gave access to *lots* of ripe fruit, there’s a fairly simple recipe for syrup that starts by gently simmering the fruit until it falls apart into its own juices. (Can’t find the cookbook in question at the moment– it’s a Mrs. Beaton’s edition from the 1980s/90s.)

      IIRC you strain the fruit through a jelly bag, measure the juice, and return it to a boil with some proportion of sugar… unless the sugar actually gets added at the start, based on the original weight of the whole fruit. It’s been a while since I made any. I just opened up a bottle of peach syrup that I’d forgotten about for a year or two; the color went a bit brownish, but a spoonful or two into a glass of ice water = instant glorious peachitude. (Or course, it’s the middle of fresh peach season again anyway. Eh.)

      • Thanks for the great response. Of course “if you have access to *lots* of ripe fruit” seems to be the key point here. Buying canned or frozen only to reprocess it seems a bit of a waste.

    • I actually just made some lemon-flavored simple syrup… all I did was add the zest of two lemons in with the (1 cup)sugar and (2 cups) water before heating. I saw Bobby Flay use the same recipe with chopped rhubarb, which he strained out after heating. This works well with any fruit (and, I imagine, vanilla bean or whatever else interests you). Fresh mint leaves? Orange? Go crazy!

      • Great timing! I just finished the fruit syrup in one of these bottles, and I’ve got a ton of fresh mint growing next to the driveway. I know what I’m doing tomorrow.

  57. Victoria Hazel says:

    The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park has a wonderful bakery cafe where they have a bottle of simple syrup available for all cold drinks. It is great for iced coffee. Now I can have it just right at home, too.

  58. just came across this site today and love it already. Just thought i would let you know that i work in a coffee bar and the vanilla flavored syrup is literally simple syrup that had a vanilla bean added when simmering. I will look at the other flavors 2mrw when i work again and give some more info on other flavors.

  59. I never thought to do this. Now I don’t have to funnel my simple syrup into bottles when it’s boiling hot.

  60. I loved this post. I’m a huge fan of simple syrup, especially since I recently ran into a cold-brew coffee recipe. I also ran into a recipe for gingerbread syrup which is so delicious that I’d like to whip up a huge batch and give it out as Christmas presents, but I’ve never canned/jarred anything before. Any tips?

  61. Craig Waterman says:

    Your discussion on the changing liquid level in the bottle reminds me of a brain-teaser Marylin Vos Savant once published in her column in Parade Magazine.

    Suppose you are sitting in a row-boat, the middle of a lake, holding a 15 lb bowling ball. You plan to throw the bowling ball over the side so that it sinks to the bottom of the lake. Question. What will happen to the water level of the lake? Will it rise ever so slightly, stay the same, or fall? Why?

    The sugar crystals on your liquid act exactly like the bowling ball and the boat. Your readers were absolutely correct.

    When the bowling ball is in the boat, the weight of the bowling ball causes more water to be displaced, because of the volume of the boat’s shell, than the bowling ball would displace on its own. When the ball enters the water, the displacement is limited to the volume of the ball only. The density is concentrated within a smaller volume so less water is displaced. The lake level falls, and the rowboat rises.

    If it is hard to conceptualize this, think instead of a bathtub, a shell-casting of your own body (staring as the row-boat), and a very small but dense object, say some weird super-marble that weighs as much as you do. Place the marble in the shell and watch the water level as it sinks into the tub, with you stopping it just as its about to sink. What is the water level doing? Rising, I should hope. Now, what will happen to the water level in the tub if you, at this point, tip the marble over the side and let go of the shell? The water level drops because the displacement of water is limited to the volume of the marble, regardless of weight. The sequence is reversed with the sugar crystals, but the situation is the same.

    The sugar crystals are very dense for their volume, so the fluid level in the bottle is low after the air bubbles escape. But as the crystals melt, the sugar is much less dense state (like the mass of the bowling ball spread out over the volume of the row-boat), the sugar has expanded and the volume of the liquid in the bottle increases.

    I hope you found this interesting. I thought it was worth sharing.
    -Science_1

Trackbacks

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