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Substitutes for Corn Syrup – What can I use instead?

Substitutes for Corn Syrup – What can I use instead?

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Talking about corn syrup can provoke a range of reactions, especially in the United States where it’s associated with its high-fructose cousin. High fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity and diabetes and some of this negativity is brushing off on regular corn syrup

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Whilst you won’t see a high fructose variation on many recipes, corn syrup itself is a common ingredient in baking and candy making. There are a variety of reasons why corn syrup is included in recipes, from taste to texture.

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Corn syrup is made by breaking down cornstarch until a sweet and syrupy liquid is produced. Raw corn syrup is then used to produce both light and dark corn syrup, which you’ll see on recipe lists. Light corn syrup has been discolorized and disappears into recipes whilst working its magic on the texture of sugary sauces. Dark corn syrup has usually been combined with caramel or molasses and is used to produce a distinctive sweetness in recipes, as well as induce the same qualities of texture.

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To produce high fructose corn syrup, the raw syrup is further broken down with the use of enzymes to transform the glucose into fructose. Fast food industries replace sucrose with this cheaper high fructose product and it’s prevalent in soft drinks as well as cookies, chips and many other products available over the fast food counter.

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Corn Syrup – What Is It Used For?

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Unless you’re employed by Pepsi, the only corn syrup you’ll be encountering on the recipe is light and dark – high fructose corn syrup can be set aside. Let’s see what corn syrup is used for before we start to explore ways in which you can substitute it out for other products.

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Baking recipes, from caramel to cookies, commonly call for the use of corn syrup. One of the primary uses for corn syrup is to produce a smooth texture in sugary products. This is because the introduction of corn syrup into melted sugar prevents sugar crystals from reforming as it cools. If you’ve ever made caramel and watched it turn from silky smooth to a grainy pulp, you’ve witnessed the jagged sugar crystals reforming. Corn syrup interferes with this process and ensures a silky texture.

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Corn syrup can also be added to sweet sauces to give it a perfect sheen. A smooth, shiny sauce drizzled across pie or ice cream is a wonderful thing.

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Corn syrup is, of course, a sweet product so it contributes to the sugary body of anything it has been added too. Other syrups such as maple syrup, honey or agave nectar will produce a similar, although distinctive, flavor in these recipes, but many of them lack the contribution to texture and sheen that corn syrup provides.

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Corn Syrup – Why You Might Avoid It

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The reputation of corn syrup has been damaged by an increasing awareness of the prevalence, and damage, of high fructose corn syrup in our diets. Whilst the regular corn syrup going into your cookies and caramel is a world away from the high fructose variety, it’s still high in sugar so you may be looking for healthier alternatives.

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Secondly, most recipes utilize corn syrup for superficial reasons, as a way to improve the texture or look of the finished product. For this reason, corn syrup is used in small amounts, likely less than a tablespoon of this syrup will go into a large batch of cookies. Maybe it’s simply not worth splashing out on a bottle of corn syrup that you’ll never get through. Let’s look at some corn syrup substitutes and when to use them.

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The Best Substitutes For Corn Syrup

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Corn syrup provides a unique chemical combination when it’s used. Its ability as an interfering agency with the recrystallization of sugar, its impact on the shiny sheen as well as its syrupy flavor are all valued characteristics. Whilst you won’t find a product that fulfills all these roles in one, there are many great substitutes for corn syrup that can work in your recipes.

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Honey

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Honey is an obvious choice to sweeten your recipes if you’re trying to steer clear of corn syrup, or if you just don’t have it to hand. Honey is unrefined and, despite the calories, it has all kinds of health benefits that refined sugars lack, including a ton of antioxidants and anti-bacterial properties.

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Honey will be a great substitute for corn syrup in baked recipes as it won’t dry out your cookies and cakes. You can replace them in equal measures, so when a recipe calls for one cup of corn syrup add a cup of honey instead.

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Molasses

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Light molasses have a similar texture and sticky consistency to corn syrup, but it’s worth remembering that it has a very distinctive flavour. You can replace one cup of corn syrup with a cup of molasses if you’re in a pinch, but only if you think the recipe can cope with that deep, dark sugary taste that molasses brings.

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Agave Nectar

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Agave nectar has grown in popularity as a substitute for honey and syrup in recent years, largely because it comes in lower on the glycemic index than other syrups. That means that agave nectar will have a lesser impact on your blood sugar levels than corn syrup, so it might be a healthier option in your recipes.

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Agave nectar is exceptionally sweet, so substitute a cup of corn syrup for ¾ of a cup of agave nectar to ensure you don’t overpower your recipe.

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Rice Syrup / Golden Syrup/ Maple Syrup

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You can, of course, substitute many other popular syrups from your shelves in the place of corn syrup in recipes. Maple syrup will give your baking a richer flavor with caramel hints, so it can make a noticeable difference to your finished product.

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You can replace one cup of corn syrup with the same quantity of any of these syrups without impacting the sweetness of your recipe. There will, however, be some changes to the taste of your bakes.

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Cane Sugar

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Making your own cane sugar syrup to replace corn syrup is quick and easy, and sugar is likely to be on hand in any kitchen! Cane sugar syrup, like corn syrup, has very little discernible flavour beyond its sweetness, so if you’re looking for something to sweeten your recipes without standing out in the taste, this simple syrup is a great option.

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To make cane sugar syrup simply combine one cup of cane sugar with half a cup of warm water and bring the solution to a gentle boil. Stir the mixture continuously until all the sugar has dissolved into the water, and then let the syrup cool to room temperature before using it in your recipes.

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You can use an equal measure of sugar syrup to replace corn syrup any time, but your texture will be compromised as this syrup doesn’t interfere with recrystallization. For the smoothest textures in your sauces, read on.

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Lemon Juice / Cream of Tartar

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There are many alternative ways to sweeten up your recipe without using corn syrup. If corn syrup is being used for its interference with the recrystallization of sugar, however, no syrup or sugar product can be used alone to replace corn syrup.

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Adding an acid into the mix will replicate this interference – in technical terms it ‘inverts’ the sucrose, breaking it into glucose and fructose, so they cannot recombine and form the jagged molecules which leave your sauce or candy with a granular texture.

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Adding a dash of lemon juice or a pinch of cream of tartar along with your chosen sweetener will introduce an acid that inverts the sucrose in much the way the corn syrup does. Combining either or both of these ingredients with an alternative syrup or sugar solution will provide you with an effective substitute for corn syrup.

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An All-Purpose Homemade Substitute

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By combining a homemade cane sugar solution with an acid you can whip up the perfect corn syrup substitute for all your recipes in under 30 minutes. Combine two cups of cane sugar with a cup of water, two teaspoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, in a saucepan and bring to the boil whilst the sugar dissolves. Once the ingredients have combined, to get the perfectly sticky consistency you’ll want to reduce the mixture, so allow it to simmer for around 20 minutes.

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By combining these ingredients you’ll have a sweet syrup that will prevent sugar molecules from recombining. This is a good option if you’re worried about the flavors present in other syrups or honey and you want a silky smooth texture.

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Conclusion

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Whether you’re making brownies, cookies or just a caramel sauce, many corn syrup substitutes will bring new flavours into the mix. Depending what you’re making, the vanilla and caramel notes of maple syrup may be a welcome addition to your finished product, or perhaps you’d be better trying molasses for the dark muscovado sweetness. When substituting corn syrup you can get creative – if you’re not sure which flavors will go best in your baking, make a small batch first and experiment with different options.



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