Simple Syrup Substitutes

When you’re mixing a drink or stirring up a cup of coffee and realize you’re out of your go-to sweetener, a simple syrup substitute can come to the rescue. These creative yet simple swaps are sure to make your sips sweeter and more flavorful. 

several jars of different color simple syrups

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Simple syrup substitutes 

Made from only sugar and water, simple syrup is a key component of many cocktail recipes. It’s also a go-to ingredient to sweeten coffee drinks, tea, lemonade and other cold beverages.

When you run out, you’re not out of luck. Like many common kitchen ingredients, such as cocoa powder, there are plenty of sweet swaps you can make. 

From natural sweeteners to flavorful add-ins, these 11 clever simple syrup substitutes will help you keep your drinks as sweet as you like them. You can also use them to experiment with flavor and come up with your own creative concoctions.

a jar of simple syrup on a wooden board

 

Sugar

If you buy your simple syrup at the grocery store, you can easily replicate it at home with equal parts sugar and water in the blender or on the stove. This DIY simple syrup is ready to use when the sugar has dissolved. 

Homemade simple syrup can be ready in just a few minutes, but you may not want to wait for the mixture to cool or make a big batch. In those cases, sugar works as a great simple syrup substitute. 

The great thing about simple syrup is that it’s in liquid form, so you don’t have to wait for it to dissolve into the drink. But you can substitute with sugar if you are running short on time and don’t want to heat up a batch on the stove. Brown sugar works better than granulated sugar because it dissolves faster when it meets liquid — just stir until it has dissolved. 

a hand holding a gold spoon drizzles honey simple syrup into a mason jar

Honey

Sweet and syrupy honey is a fantastic simple syrup substitute. It brings a slightly floral and herbal flavor to drinks and works especially well in tea, lemonade and cocktails. 

However, its thick viscosity means it doesn’t dissolve well in cold drinks. When honey meets ice, it tends to seize up and harden. 

To avoid this, when you want to use it in an icy beverage, you’ll need to make honey syrup by combining honey with warm water. This makes the honey thinner so it will mix in more smoothly. 

a maple old-fashioned with a maple candy with maple syrup and cookies in the background

Maple syrup

Yes, your favorite pancake topping has a place in drinks, too. Maple syrup can be substituted for simple syrup. It’s a great plant-based and vegan option for people who don’t want to use honey, a byproduct of bees. 

Maple syrup works especially well as it is already in thick liquid form and dissolves easily in other liquids. It also brings its signature, cozy maple flavor to drinks like the maple manhattan or the maple old-fashioned.

“Maple syrup is my go-to substitute when I need a simple syrup. Not only is it a similar consistency, but it brings a delicious, caramel-like flavor to anything it’s paired with.” 

— Shelby, Fit As A Mama Bear
Two margarita glasses with limes and lime wedges, perfect for enjoying a refreshing Virgin Margarita.

Agave nectar

Like maple syrup, agave nectar is a great plant-based option for those who don’t want to use honey. It’s also a plant product made from the succulent known as the agave plant, with a flavor similar to honey and maple syrup.  

The agave is the same genus of plant used to make mezcal and tequila. This makes agave nectar a great substitute for tequila drinks like the margarita and the paloma, as the flavors mesh well together, highlighting the caramel-like flavors in the spirit. 

Coconut nectar and coconut syrup

Coconut nectar is a product made from boiling the sap of coconut palm flowers. The nectar has a thick, viscous consistency. Its dry form is dehydrated into granules to become coconut sugar, but the thick nectar can be mixed with liquids. 

Coconut syrup is a thinner syrup made from coconut nectar and water, similar to agave nectar and maple syrup. Both coconut nectar and coconut syrup can replace simple syrup, but you may need to thin the nectar with water for it to mix well with drink ingredients. 

Coconut nectar doesn’t taste especially like coconut; however, you can also make a flavored coconut syrup by combining simple syrup with coconut extract.

a peach whiskey smash on a wooden coaster

Fresh fruit

Fruit adds a beautifully sweet flavor to drinks in many forms. From berries to peaches and citrus to cucumbers, there are lots of options for adding sweetness to a drink. 

Muddling entails smashing fruit with a wooden or metal stick, a tool known as a muddler, to release juices and essential oils, which can be used to make flavorful cocktails like the peach whiskey smash or a blackberry mojito. If you don’t have a muddler, you can use a fork or potato masher for a similar effect. 

Two gold-rimmed glasses with a strawberry mimosa in them.

Fruit juice and purées

Sweet fruit juices, like apple and orange juices, and sweet juice blends, like lemonade and limeade, can work in lieu of simple syrup too. They can be sweet enough. If a recipe already calls for one of these, increase the amount a little at a time until it reaches your desired sweetness level. 

Puréed fruit made in a blender or food processor is another great way to add sweetness to a drink. The Bellini cocktail is famous for its peach purée base with prosecco — and no added sweetener. The strawberry mimosa uses champagne and puréed strawberries.

Jam

You can make a simple syrup substitute from jams and preserves for drinks that lend themselves well to a fruity flavor. Heat the jam so that it is more syrupy in consistency, adding a splash of water if needed to thin it out. Be sure to strain out any solids through a fine-mesh strainer before adding to your drink. Try it in a gin & jam cocktail.

A Homemade Margarita in a glass next to a bottle of tequila.

Sour mix and margarita mix

Drink recipes that contain sour lemon or lime juice usually call for a sweetener to balance the acidity. The classic margarita, daiquiri, whiskey sour and some tea drinks like the medicine ball are great examples. 

These drinks have an easy swap: You can substitute both the citrus juice and the sweetener with cocktail mixers like sour mix and margarita mix. The latter works best for lime-flavored drinks, while sour mix works best for either lemon or lime drinks. 

Grenadine syrup

A sweet pomegranate-based syrup, grenadine can work in place of simple syrup in some drinks. This bright red syrup is the base of many drink recipes, including the Shirley Temple mocktail and the classic tequila sunrise cocktail or its cousin the Corona sunrise.

It has a very distinct, pomegranate- and cherry-like flavor, so it likely won’t work in coffee drinks. However, it could work in fruit-forward beverages. 

A jar of homemade caramel vodka on a white background with a red kitchen towel.

Sweet spirits and liqueurs

For certain cocktail recipes, a sweet liqueur or spirit can work instead of simple syrup. Some distilled spirits, like caramel vodka and cinnamon whiskey, have added sweeteners and flavorings that can eliminate the need for more. 

Orange liqueurs like triple sec, Cointreau and Grand Marnier are sweet enough to be used in place of simple syrup in some cases. These liqueurs are common additions to many margarita recipes. 

You could also spike coffee drinks and even hot chocolate with some liqueurs to add sweetness. Coffee liqueur and Irish cream liqueur are common choices. 

Other simple syrup substitutes

Beyond these 11 simple syrup substitutes, there are even more sweeteners out there that can work in cocktails, coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks. Experiment with any sugar syrup swap to create new flavor combinations for your favorite drink recipes: 

  • Golden syrup
  • Monk fruit sweetener
  • Date syrup
  • Sweet potato syrup
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Sugar-free substitutes like stevia to make sugar-free simple syrup

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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