Ingredient Intelligence

The 5 Best Substitutes for Corn Syrup

published Jul 30, 2022
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caramel sauce
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The best substitute for corn syrup depends on what you’re making, whether it calls for light or dark corn syrup, and why you need to swap in something else. 

That last question can be the trickiest. Are you making caramel sauce to top an ice cream sundae? Making pecan pie? Or, is it October 30, you’re in the middle of a homemade candy corn project, and you suddenly realize your bottle of corn syrup has run dry?

No matter the reason, this guide to substitutions for light and dark corn syrup has you covered.

What Is Corn Syrup?

The best way to find a corn syrup substitution is to understand what, exactly, it is. Corn syrup is a sweet and viscous ingredient used in pecan pie filling, sugar cookie icing, and many candy recipes. Corn syrup is an invert sugar, which means it maintains moisture and prevents crystallization in candy recipes and baked goods where a soft, chewy texture is key.

The difference between corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is that the former is all glucose and readily available on grocery shelves, while HFCS is glucose that’s been converted into fructose. HFCS is used in many packaged goods but isn’t sold in supermarkets.

Most commercial light corn syrup contains vanilla extract, while dark corn syrup is made with roasty, molasses-adjacent refiner’s syrup.

5 Corn Syrup Substitutes

1. Maple Syrup

Swap in equal parts maple syrup for light or dark corn syrup in pies, cakes, or any recipe where its subtle maple flavor would be welcome. Try it in place of light corn syrup in a gooey butter cake or homemade cracker jack, or in maple fudge or sour cherry-almond ice cream with chocolate chunks.

This street goes both ways. If you have a sweet tooth but don’t care for maple flavor, you might find dark corn syrup delicious atop pancakes or waffles.

On the flip side, however, maple syrup will change the color and flavor of your finished dish. And maple syrup isn’t an invert sugar, so it doesn’t prevent crystallization in candy recipes.

2. Brown Rice Syrup

While cornstarch creates the backbone of corn syrup, brown rice syrup is made from rice starches that have been converted to simple sugars and then thickened into syrup. Use it as an equal replacement for light or dark corn syrup in recipes that will benefit from its toasty rice flavors, like peanut butter scotcheroos, Neapolitan ice cream pie, or Snickers-inspired bar cookies.

3. Honey

Many cooks have at least one jar of honey in varying stages of stickiness in their cabinets, and it can be used as a 1:1 substitute for light or dark corn syrup. Not all honeys have the same color or flavors, though, so a dark-amber orange blossom honey will behave differently than a mild acacia. 

Honey doesn’t prevent the sugar crystallization needed to make candies, so it’s better served as a substitute for corn syrup in baked goods like Kentucky bourbon walnut pie or as a donut glaze.

4. Golden Syrup

Arguably the best supermarket swap for light corn syrup is golden syrup, a staple in the United Kingdom that’s sold online and at many U.S. grocery stores. It has the same light color and sweet flavors, and is also an invert sugar, making it a good candidate for candies. Try it as a 1:1 substitute for corn syrup the next time you want to make peanut brittle or soft and chewy caramel candies.

5. Cane Sugar Syrup

If you make candy frequently but are avoiding corn syrup for any reason, consider whipping up a batch of cane sugar syrup

It prevents crystallization just like corn syrup, so it can be a 1:1 substitution for corn syrup in candy recipes like marshmallows and homemade marshmallow fluff. It’s equally at home in other recipes that call for corn syrup, including chocolate bumpy cake, sweet candied citrus, and caramel sauce.

Once you’ve prepared and jarred it, homemade cane sugar syrup lasts at least two months. If you’re in the early stages of candy-making or eager to brush up on the basics, check out this guide to working with sugar, too.