You’re getting ready to whip up Aunt Becky’s famous pecan pie when you suddenly realize that you’re missing one key ingredient: corn syrup. Oops. Sure, you could call and ask her what to use instead, but only if you want to listen to a five-minute lecture about how a cook should always have a fully stocked pantry (um, what pantry?). Relax, we’ve got you covered. Here, seven great substitutes for corn syrup that’ll save the pie day.
7 Substitutes for Corn Syrup You Can Buy at the Grocery Store
Corn syrup vs high fructose corn syrup
First, let's make this important distinction. Corn syrup is a sugar made by extracting and refining the glucose from the plant. Corn syrup is a sugar that has been extracted from corn and processed into a liquid form. What’s left is a thick and light syrup that’s 100 percent glucose. This is not the same thing as the much-maligned high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been processed further to convert some of that glucose into fructose, thereby making it even sweeter. While you can buy corn syrup at the grocery store, HFCS is typically used by food manufacturers in processed goods. Research shows that HFCS may contribute to obesity as well as diabetes, but regular corn syrup falls into the same category as sugar (so you know, enjoy in moderation).
Corn syrup is what’s called an invert sugar, meaning it’s liquid at room temperature and prevents sugar crystals from forming (making it great for candy making). It can also be used to add shine and body to recipes (say in a chocolate sauce) as well as a creamy texture to frozen desserts. But what do you do if a dish calls for corn syrup and you don’t have any at home? You swap in one of these ingredients instead, that’s what.
1. Sugar and Water
For each cup of light corn syrup, substitute 1 cup granulated sugar dissolved in ¼ cup warm water. Need dark corn syrup? Substitute 1 cup packed brown sugar for the granulated sugar and dissolve it into ¼ cup water. This syrup makes a great stand-in for baked goods (like pecan pie), but because sugar crystallizes at high temperatures, it won’t work for candy recipes that need to go past the soft-ball stage (i.e., 235°F).
Corn syrup and honey are equal replacements (meaning you can substitute 1 cup honey for 1 cup corn syrup). But similar to sugar, honey won’t prevent crystallization, so it’s not the best choice for making caramel or candy, but it can work well in other recipes as long as you don’t mind its distinct flavor. Tip: As a general rule, the lighter the honey, the milder the flavor.
3. Agave Nectar
A one-to-one substitution, agave syrup (aka agave nectar) has a mild flavor that works great in most recipes that call for corn syrup. (But again, not candy.).
4. Brown Rice Syrup
If you’re looking for a corn syrup substitute that’ll work in candy recipes that need to go to the hard-ball stage, opt for brown rice syrup. This sticky mixture has the same chemical properties of corn syrup and will prevent crystallization. It does have a slightly nutty flavor, though, which might not work for all recipes (or hey, it might work even better).
5. Golden Syrup
A pantry staple in the U.K., this buttery syrup can be substituted one-to-one for corn syrup and can also be used in candy making.
6. Cane Syrup
This popular Southern ingredient tastes similar to molasses and can replace corn syrup in equal measurements. But again, this substitute won’t work in candy recipes since it won’t prevent crystallization.
7. Maple Syrup
Our favorite pancake topper can be used as a one-to-one substitute for corn syrup in most recipes (but not candy making). Just keep in mind that maple syrup has quite a strong, earthy flavor.