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Best Corn Syrup Substitutes

The 7 Best Corn Syrup Substitutes

For many, corn syrup is a staple pantry ingredient that’s an essential component of dozens of recipes. It’s sweet, syrupy, versatile and allows you to make hard candy without worrying about crystallization.

But what is one to do when this indispensable is unavailable or unfit for the dietary requirements of themselves or their guests? That’s where we come in. This article provides you with our 7 top corn syrup substitutes and everything you need to know about them.

What is corn syrup

Corn syrup is a sweet syrup made from corn starch, maltose and oligosaccharides. The production of corn syrup involves multiple steps and is a little complicated, but in a nutshell:

First, α-amylase enzymes are added to a mixture of water and corn starch, which breaks the starch into oligosaccharides. These oligosaccharides are then broken down by another enzyme (glucoamylase) into glucose molecules. Finally, another type of enzyme (D-xylose isomerase) can be used to transform some of the glucose into fructose. This produces the sweet syrupy mixture we know and love.

Although the different types of corn syrup are pretty similar, there are a few key differences that are worth noting. Light corn syrup is clear in color, sweet tasting and flavored with salt and vanilla.

Dark corn syrup is a mix of plain corn syrup, salt, caramel and molasses, which gives it a darker color and a bolder flavor. High-fructose corn syrup results from transforming many of the glucose molecules into fructose with the enzyme D-xylose isomerase.

This produces an even sweeter syrup that is often used as a sweetener in processed foods. However, this article will be focused on substitutes that work for light and dark corn syrup.

How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

As you may have already gathered from all this talk of glucose and fructose, corn syrup is very high in sugar, containing 78g per 100g. Although this is 26% of your daily recommended carbs, keep in mind that next to none of these carbohydrates consist of dietary fiber and almost all consist of glucose.

You may be more familiar with the adverse health effects of high-fructose corn syrup and its high fructose content, but it’s important to remember that glucose (a more basic type of sugar) can have very damaging effects on the body.

In fact, many doctors and health professionals, such as Doctor Mike Roussell, recommend avoiding all types of corn syrup altogether. Of course, cutting out all added sugars can be quite challenging in the modern world, but we do recommend making sure to consume corn syrup and other high-sugar ingredients in moderation.

Because corn syrup consists almost entirely of glucose, it has few other nutritional benefits besides small amounts of calcium, iron and potassium – definitely nothing that would make up for its high sugar content. It is also high in calories, at around 286kcal per 100g.

Still, as we said, corn syrup is still okay to eat in moderation as long as you don’t have any health conditions that dictate otherwise. Luckily, most recipes will only call for a small amount – just be careful not to overdo it.

Nutritional Breakdown:

Corn syrup

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

286 kcal

14 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

155 mg

6 %

Protein

-

0 %

Total carbohydrates

78 g

26 %

Calcium

18 mg

1 %

Iron

0.37 mg

2 %

Potassium

44 mg

1 %

(Based on nutritional information from USDA on corn syrup.)

What recipes are corn syrup used in?

Both light and dark corn syrups are versatile ingredients that are used in many dessert dishes. Popular dishes that often make use of corn syrup include cakes, cookies, pies, breads, ice cream, hard candy, marshmallows, sauces, glazes, beverages and more.

Because light corn syrup has a lighter, sweeter vanilla flavor it is commonly used in recipes that require a touch of delicate sweetness, such as fruit jams and sauces. On the other hand, the flavor of dark corn syrup is bolder caramel flavor that is best suited for many types of baked goods.  

Why do we need corn syrup substitutes?

As we previously explained, corn syrup isn’t exactly the healthiest ingredient out there, and as many of us are cutting back on the added sugar to maintain a healthier diet, you may want to consider a healthier option.

Allergies are another common reason one may wish to find alternatives to corn syrup. Being allergic to corn can be extremely challenging with so many ingredients, including high-fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup, being derived from corn. This list mostly consists of alternatives with no traces of corn in their base ingredients, making them great options if you’re cooking with allergies in mind. Just be sure to check the label to make sure there are no added corn-derived ingredients.

If you’re in the UK or other countries where corn syrup is not commonly sold, then you may be at a loss over what to use in its place.

And last but not least, you may simply want a convenient corn syrup substitute you can whip out of your pantry when you have nothing else available.

But no matter which of these apply to you, this list is sure to provide you with exactly the substitute you need to fill that corn syrup shaped hole in your recipe. 

Note:

🌱 = vegan

 * Always check the label and/or product information for dietary information.

1. Honey

Best for: most light corn syrup recipes that DO NOT go past the soft-ball stage (235F+), as long as you don’t mind the distinctive honey flavor

Honey

Ah, honey: nature’s own natural sweetener. Honey may be high in calories and sugar, but it makes a great substitute for corn syrup – especially light corn syrup – and does come with some health benefits. To use, simply replace the amount of corn syrup called for by your recipe by an equal amount of honey (a 1:1 ratio).

Advantages

The similarities between the flavors and textures of corn syrup and honey make it a good, convincing substitute. Like corn syrup, honey is sweet-tasting, thick and syrupy, with almost the exact same consistency.

Because it’s so similar, you can replace the amount of corn syrup required for your recipe for the exact same amount of honey, making it a super easy alternative to use. There will be some difference in flavor, but nothing too discernable if you’re using it in a recipe with several other ingredients.

Honey is also super easy to get your hands on and a common addition to many people’s pantries, making it a convenient option when you’re in a pinch.

You may be surprised to hear that despite its sugariness, honey does have a few health benefits. Various studies have shown that honey’s potential health benefits include lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, stimulating wound and burn healing and antioxidant properties that help improve heart health. Of course, this still comes along with a high sugar and calorie content, so it’s important to consume in moderation.

Honey is also a great option if you’re allergic to corn, as it is all natural and contains no added corn-derived ingredients.

Disadvantages

Honey obviously doesn’t taste exactly the same as corn syrup and has a distinctive flavor that may be off-putting if you’re not a huge honey fan.

Although honey does have some health benefits, it still has a very high sugar and calorie content. This means it doesn’t really work as a healthy alternative to corn syrup if you’re looking to cut back on the sweet stuff. However, as long as you use it in moderation, it certainly won’t do you any more harm than corn syrup would.

Now you may have noticed that honey is the one substitute on our list not marked as vegan. That’s because honey is still a bit of a grey area in terms of veganism, with some vegans accepting it as part of a vegan diet and others deciding against it on moral grounds. You can do your own research here, but just bear in mind that honey isn’t always classed as 100% vegan.

Nutritional breakdown

Honey

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

304 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

4 mg

0 %

Protein

0.3 g

0 %

Total carbohydrates

82 g

27 %

Calcium

6 mg

1 %

Iron

0.42 mg

2 %

Potassium

52 mg

1 %

(Based on nutritional information from USDA on honey.)

2. Sugar and water 🌱

Best for: almost all corn syrup recipes that DO NOT go past the soft-ball stage (235F+)

Sugar and water

This may not be the most exciting substitute, but it sure is a convenient one. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any better alternatives, a simple combination of sugar and water will provide an acceptable substitute for corn syrup. To use, simply combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water and stir until dissolved.

Advantages

The best thing about this substitute is how quick, easy-to-make and convenient it is, making it the perfect option if you want a sweet solution to your corn syrup emergency. The vast majority of us will have a tub of sugar at hand, and it’s also super easy to make. Simply dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1/4 cup of water and use the same amount as the amount of corn syrup called for by your recipe (in a 1:1 ratio).

Although light and dark corn syrup do have their own unique flavors, their main purpose is to add sweetness and moisture to the recipe, which this alternative does just fine. You can also always add a touch of vanilla flavoring, molasses or caramel if you want to go a step further in recreating the intricacies of your favorite corn syrup’s flavor.

As you’ll likely have figured out by now, this substitute is A-okay for both vegans and those of you suffering from a corn allergy, as it contains only sugar and water (and whatever else you may decide to add).

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, this isn’t a great substitute if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to corn syrup. Sugar has no real health benefits, making it a non-nutritious ingredient with “empty calories” and many associated health risks.

It contains around 50% glucose and 50% fructose, which has been linked with high blood sugar and insulin levels, diabetes and decreased heart health. However, as with all of the options on this list, there isn’t too much to worry about as long as you use it in moderation.

This sugar-water mix also isn’t a good option if you’re looking to make hard candy or other recipes that require heating at very high temperatures (235F+). That’s because sugar crystalizes at temperatures above 235F where corn syrup doesn’t.

Nutritional breakdown:

Sugar and water

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

310 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

1 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Total carbohydrates

80 g

26 %

Calcium

-

0 %

Iron

-

0 %

Potassium

2 mg

0 %

(Using 80g sugar and 20g water. Based on nutritional information from USDA on sugar.)

3. Agave nectar 🌱

Best for: almost all corn syrup recipes that DO NOT go past the soft-ball stage (235F+)

Agave nectar

Agave nectar, also known by its proper name, agave syrup, is another mild, sugary syrup that makes a great substitute for corn syrup. Its high fructose content means it’s not the best option if you’re watching your health, but you shouldn’t see any adverse effects if consumed in moderation. To use, simply substitute in the same amount as the amount of corn syrup called for by your recipe (a 1:1 substitution ratio).

Advantages

Agave nectar has a mild flavor, meaning it will bring that syrupy sweetness to your dish without overpowering it with a strong, distinctive flavor. The consistency is also practically the same as that of corn syrup, meaning you can easily replace it for the same amount of agave nectar, adding extra vanilla, molasses or other ingredients if you want to go for the specific flavoring of light or dark corn syrup.

Although agave nectar is high in sugar and calories, it does have some redeeming health benefits. For instance, it is much higher in vitamin C than many of the other substitutes on this list, with 20% of your daily recommended amount in 100g. It also contains moderate amounts of B vitamins (18% of your daily recommended vitamin B6, 13% of your vitamin B2 and 8% of your vitamin B9).

Another bonus of agave nectar is that it dissolves quickly and easily, making it a great option if you want to add some extra sweetness to cold beverages.

Agave nectar is derived from various species of the agave plant, meaning it contains no corn derivatives and can be used by people with corn allergies as a viable substitute for corn syrup. Just check the product information to make sure there are no added corn-derived ingredients. It is also 100% plant-based, meaning it’s fine to use if you’re vegan or intolerant to animal products.

Disadvantages

One negative aspect of agave nectar is that its composition is very similar to that of high-fructose corn syrup, containing up to 60% fructose. The negative health effects relating to fructose have been well documented in recent years, so it’s best to keep your consumption of this sugar as low as possible. Just remember to consume in moderation in order to avoid any long-term health risks.

Although agave nectar is especially good for use in cold beverages, it does not work in recipes for foods such as hard candies that require heating at high temperatures.

Nutritional breakdown

Agave nectar

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

310 kcal

15 %

Total fat

0.5 g

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

4 mg

0 %

Protein

0.1 g

0 %

Total carbohydrates

76 g

25 %

Calcium

1 mg

0 %

Iron

0.09 mg

0 %

Potassium

4 mg

0 %

Vitamin C

17 mg

20 %

(Based on nutritional information from USDA on agave nectar.)


4. Brown rice syrup 🌱

Best for: most corn syrup recipes if you don’t mind the toastier flavor, cooking past the soft-ball stage (235F+)

Brown rice syrup

Although brown rice syrup couldn’t be called “healthy”, it is less calorific than other options on this list and is made from 100% glucose and no fructose, making it a good substitute if you’re looking to cut back on the calories or fructose intake as much as possible. Just make sure you go for a low calorie version if that’s what you’re looking for. Brown rice syrup has a slightly more “toasty” flavor than corn syrup, but it makes a great substitute all the same.

Advantages

Planning on making hard candy or another dish that requires heating above 235F? Then this could be the option for you. Like corn syrup, brown rice syrup does not crystalize at high temperatures, making it a great option if you’ve got no corn syrup at hand but need a syrup that can go past the hard-ball stage.

You could certainly taste the difference between brown rice syrup and corn syrup if you were tasting them plain. Unlike corn syrup, the flavor of brown rice syrup is slightly nutty and toasty.

However, when used in combination with other ingredients, the difference is hardly noticeable. Cook’s Illustrated even conducted a test to find out if people could taste the difference between chocolate frosting and chicken glaze made with corn syrup and brown rice syrup. The results? Tasters found there to be no significant differences in taste, texture or color.

Although no sweeteners can really be classed as healthy, brown rice syrup does not contain any fructose, which has gained a bad rep for its health risks in recent years. Like corn syrup, brown rice syrup contains only glucose, which is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

However, this also means that it causes your blood sugar levels to rise quickly once consumed, so it’s important to consume this syrup (like most others) in moderation.

Brown rice syrup is also totally free from corn and animal products, making it a good option if you’re allergic to corn or vegan.

Disadvantages

Brown rice syrup is considered more of a “posh” syrup and is usually around twice as expensive as corn syrup, so it’s not the best option if you’re baking on a budget. It can also be significantly harder to get a hold of than corn syrup and other options depending on where you live. Your best bet is to have a look in the sweetener section and international aisles (as brown rice syrup is commonly used in Korean dishes) or buy online if it isn’t sold in stores near you.

If you’re making a recipe with few ingredients, the nuttier, toastier flavor of brown rice syrup may come through more than you’d like it to. This isn’t much of an issue in most recipes, but you may want to go with a milder-tasting substitute if you want to be on the safe side.

Nutritional breakdown

Brown rice syrup

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

150 kcal

7 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

70 mg

3 %

Protein

-

0 %

Total carbohydrates

36 g

12 %

Calcium

20 mg

2 %

Potassium

4 mg

0 %

(Based on nutritional information for Lundberg Sweet Dreams Organic Brown Rice Syrup.)

5. Maple syrup 🌱

Best for: most corn syrup recipes that DO NOT go past the soft-ball stage (235F+), as long as you don’t mind the distinctive maple flavor

Maple syrup

Maple syrup does have a rather distinctive flavor, but if you don’t mind a more earthy addition to your recipe, this makes a great substitute with a good level of sweetness and a similar consistency to corn syrup. To use, simply substitute in the same amount of maple syrup as the amount of corn syrup called for by your recipe (in a 1:1 ratio).

Advantages

Darker maple syrups have a bold, robust flavor that makes a good substitute for the bold flavor of dark corn syrup. Naturally, the flavor will not be exactly the same and you should be prepared to taste the distinctive earthiness of maple syrup in your dish, but the difference will not be obnoxious in a 1:1 substitution. The consistency of maple syrup is also very similar to that of corn syrup, so it will bring the same level of moisture to your recipe.

Many varieties of maple syrup are also perfectly fine for people with corn allergies to consume. Just be sure that you’re getting true maple syrup and not maple-flavored syrup, as flavored syrups are often still derived from corn.

If your allergy is severe, you should also make sure to check the ingredients to be sure no ingredients used contain traces of corn. Maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees and is usually vegan. However, sometimes animal fat is used to defoam the syrup once it has boiled, so be sure to check the label to be on the safe side.

Like the other substitutes on this list, maple syrup cannot be called heathy, but it does contain some vitamins and minerals along with a high number of antioxidants. However, it is still very high in sugar, so always consume in moderation.

Disadvantages

While maple syrup can make a good substitute for dark corn syrup, the flavor may be too bold and distinctive for recipes that call for the light, mild-flavored sweetness of light corn syrup. If you don’t want your dish to taste too robust and distinctly maple-flavored, you may want to go for a milder option.

Maple syrup is usually significantly more expensive than corn syrup, so it can make a pretty pricey substitute if you’re using it in large quantities.

Nutritional breakdown

Maple syrup

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

260 kcal

14 %

Total fat

0.1 g

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

67 g

22 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

12 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Potassium

212 mg

6 %

Calcium

102 mg

10 %

(Based on USDA nutritional information for maple syrup.)

6. Golden syrup 🌱

Best for: almost all corn syrup recipes, cooking past the soft-ball stage (235F+)

Golden syrup

Golden syrup is your go-to option if you’re in the UK or other countries where corn syrup isn’t available. While corn is one of the USA’s main sources of sugar, the UK’s (and other EU countries’) main sugar source comes from sugar beets.

Advantages

You can think of golden syrup as the UK’s (along with many other countries’) equivalent of corn syrup. What do we mean by that? Well, both corn syrup and golden syrup are classed as glucose syrups, meaning they work in very similar ways and have a very similar flavor.

The main difference between the two is that while corn syrup is derived from corn, golden syrup is derived from sugar beets or sugar cane. This is great news if you’re outside of the USA and especially if you’re in the UK, because golden syrup is often considered a pantry staple in UK countries. If you don’t already have some in your cupboard, it’s super easy to find at the store or online.

Nutrition-wise, golden syrup is pretty similar to corn syrup. This isn’t a great thing, as corn syrup isn’t exactly known for its healthiness. However, like corn syrup, it contains only glucose and no fructose, which is usually viewed as the healthier syrup composition. As long as you consume it in moderation, golden syrup will not do you any more harm than corn syrup.

Because golden syrup is derived from sugar beets or sugar cane rather than corn, it also makes a great option if you or one of your guests have a corn allergy. Golden syrup also contains no animal products, making it a viable option for the non-USA vegans out there.

Golden syrup is also super cheap to buy, with around the same market price as corn syrup, making it a perfect option if you’re shopping on a budget.

And as if that wasn’t enough, golden syrup is also a great option if you want a syrup that won’t crystalize at high temperatures – perfect for hard candy recipes.    

Disadvantages

Golden syrup may be a little harder to get your hands on if you live in the USA or other countries where sugar beets and sugar cane are not used as the main source of syrups. However, it is sold in the international aisles of many grocery stores, and you can always buy online as a last resort.

Unfortunately, like corn syrup, golden syrup is highly processed and very high in sugar. It may also contain slightly more calories depending on the variety you pick up. However, all in all there isn’t much difference between the nutritional value of the two, so while it’s not healthy, it won’t be any worse for you than corn syrup.

Nutritional breakdown

Golden syrup

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

325 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

80.5 g

22 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

80 mg

3 %

Protein

0.5 g

1 %

Calcium

-

0 %

(Based on nutritional information for Lyle’s Golden Syrup.)

7. Molasses 🌱

Best for: most dark corn syrup recipes, as long as you don’t mind a strong, distinctive molasses flavor

Molasses

Molasses, especially medium, dark and blackstrap molasses has a very distinctive taste that may overpower the other flavors in your recipe, especially if it calls for light corn syrup. However, if you’re familiar with the warm flavor molasses can bring to dishes and you want to give it a go, it will reward you with several health benefits that corn syrup doesn’t offer.

Advantages

The best thing about molasses is its health benefits, which most of the other options on our list do not have. However, it’s important to note that the darker the molasses, the more vitamins and minerals and the less sugar it will contain.

The healthiest option available is blackstrap molasses, which contains a lower amount of sugar and impressive amount of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin B-6, magnesium and other nutrients. A 2009 study into the antioxidant properties of different types of sweeteners found that blackstrap molasses contained the most antioxidants out of all the sweeteners tested. So although molasses does still contain a lot of sugar, it is definitely healthier than corn syrup and most of the other substitutes on our list.

The main ingredients of molasses are suitable for both vegans and those with corn allergies. However, some varieties contain corn-derived colorings and defoamers, so always check the label to be sure.

But before you go running off to find your molasses supply, it’s important to be aware of the dramatic difference it can make to the flavor of your dish. The good news is that dark corn syrup is flavored with molasses to give it its more bold, robust flavor, so it can make a viable substitute in recipes calling for dark corn syrup.

But be warned: even in these cases, molasses will give a noticeably different, bolder flavor. To be on the safer side, use light molasses, which will be sweeter and not quite as bold as the darker varieties. For even better results, you can use 3/4 cup light corn syrup and 1/4 cup of molasses to produce an impressively convincing substitute for dark corn syrup.

Disadvantages

The bad news is that molasses really doesn’t make a great substitute for light corn syrup. In contrast to the mild, light sweetness of light corn syrup, even light molasses has a much bolder, more distinctive character.

You can still use this substitute for light corn syrup if you really have nothing else available, but be aware that it will make a noticeable difference to the flavor of your dish. 

Nutritional breakdown

Molasses

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

290 kcal

15 %

Total fat

0.1

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

75 g

25 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

37 mg

1 %

Protein

-

0 %

Calcium

205 mg

20 %

Potassium

1,464 mg

41 %

Iron

4.72 mg

26 %

Vitamin B-6

0.67 mg

35 %

Magnesium

242 mg

60 %

(Based on USDA nutritional information on molasses.)

The Bottom Line

So, now you have a variety of great corn syrup substitutes for a variety of occasions. But if you’re still a little confused as to which is right for you, let’s take a look at a summary of our top picks for dietary requirements, health, convenience and similarity to corn syrup.

Top picks for vegans / allergies 

With the exception of honey, the base ingredients of all the substitutes on our list are suitable for vegans. Just be sure to check the label or product information to make sure that there aren’t any added animal-derived colorings, flavorings or defoamers.

And it’s a similar story for those of you with corn allergies. All of the base ingredients of the substitutes on our list are free from corn. However, it is fairly common for corn-derived colorings, flavorings and defoamers to be used, so it’s highly important to make sure your substitute of choice is totally free of corn before you put it to use. Always check the label and whatever product information you have available.

Top healthy picks

Okay, so none of the options on our list are exactly “healthy”, but you can’t expect too much when you’re working with sugary sweeteners and syrups. However, if a lower sugar content along with a variety of vitamins and minerals sounds good to you, then molasses, agave nectar or maple syrup may be your best bet. Just bear in mind that high amounts of molasses (especially darker varieties) will significantly alter the flavor of your dish.

Top convenient picks

Want a great corn syrup substitute without the hassle of going to the store? Then a mix of 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water is the perfect choice for you. If you’re outside of the USA but still want to use a similar syrup, golden syrup is another great option that can often be found sitting around in our cupboards.

Top convincing picks

Golden syrup is a type of glucose syrup just like corn syrup, making it a great option if corn syrup isn’t widely available in your country and you want the next best thing. Golden syrup also doesn’t crystalize at high temperatures (235F+) just like corn syrup. 

If you just want a convincing alternative to recreate the sweetness of corn syrup and you’re not going to be heating at such high temperatures, a sugar and water mix also makes a convincing substitute that is untainted by other distinctive flavors. You can always add a splash of molasses or a touch of vanilla to more closely replicate the complexities of dark and light corn syrup.

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