Making an old-fashioned simple syrup is as easy as boiling water and sugar together. Depending on the ratio you can make a super heavy syrup or a very light syrup. You can also make flavored or honey simple syrups. Let’s explore how to make simple syrup to use for canning, cooking, and cocktails.
What is a simple syrup?
Simple syrups are sometimes called “sugar syrup” to differentiate them from other syrups such as maple syrup. Simple syrups are made by boiling water and sugar together.
These syrups can be flavored with herbs or fruit, or they can be just plain sugar and water.
Basic Recipe for Simple Syrup
A basic simple syrup ratio is 1:1 – 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. But you can make it lighter by using less sugar or sweeter by using more. It just depends on your preferences and what you’re using it for.
If you’re canning fruit that’s naturally sweet, you probably want to use a light or even a very light syrup. However, if you’re using a homemade simple syrup for coffee or cocktails you might want to use a sweeter syrup.
To make the simple syrup, combine equal parts water and sugar in a medium stock pot and heat over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. That’s it!
Let the syrup cool a bit and put into a clean jar to store – mason jars work well for this but pouring can be a little tricky. Other jars that are good for storing simple syrup are leftover salad dressing jars or any jar that has a smaller rim. I like to use flip top brewing bottles for my simple syrups.
You can use regular granulated sugar, raw sugar, and even brown sugar to make simple syrups. Just know that if you make a brown sugar simple syrup the color will be darker. It won’t affect the flavor or safety, but it might affect the color of your finished product.
How Long Does Simple Syrup Last?
Sugar is a natural food preservative so the more sugar in the syrup the longer it will last. That being said, most simple syrups made with a 1:1 ratio will last up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. Flavored simple syrups should be used within 2 weeks.
Simple syrups are so easy to make that there’s really no need to make more than you can use in a couple of weeks. Flavored syrups don’t need to be made with fresh fruit or herbs, they can be quickly made with frozen or dehydrated fruits and herbs.
Store all simple syrups in clean jars or bottles in the refrigerator.
Simple Syrup for Canning
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation simple syrups help home canned fruit retain it’s flavor, color and shape. But it does not help prevent spoilage. This means that you can decide to use a very light syrup or a heavy syrup or anything in between for your home canned fruit.
“Adding syrup to canned fruit helps to retain its flavor, color, and shape. It does not prevent spoilage of these foods.NCHFP Website
Very Light Syrup is about 10% sugar and approximates the natural sugar levels in most fruits. To make a very light syrup combine 6 1/2 cups water with 3/4 cup sugar.
Light Syrup is about 20% sugar and is used for very sweet fruit. I like to start with either a very light or light syrup and add more sugar if necessary. However, I usually find that these work great. To make a light syrup combine 5 3/4 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar.
Medium Syrup is about 30% sugar and is used for fruit such as sweet apples, sweet cherries, berries, and grapes. To make a medium syrup combine 5 1/4 cups water and 2 1/4 cups sugar.
Heavy Syrup is about 40% sugar and is good for tart apples, apricots, sour cherries, gooseberries, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. To make a heavy syrup combine 5 cups water and 3 1/4 cups sugar.
Very Heavy Syrup is about 50% sugar and will overpower most fruits. Try a small amount first to see if your family likes the fruit that sweet. To make a very heavy syrup combine equal amounts of water and sugar.
Since the syrup doesn’t add to the safety of the canned fruit, you can use any syrup for any fruit that is safe to can. However, if you use a very light or light syrup the fruit might become discolored or softer over time.
Using Simple Syrups for Cake Making
A little known baker’s secret is using sugar syrup for cake making. It can be used on any cake to make it more moist but it especially helpful for layered cakes. And for cakes that you’re going to make and decorate over the course of a couple of days.
A basic sugar syrup with a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar will not alter the flavor of your cake. However, you can make flavored syrups by adding herbs or fruit to the basic sugar syrup recipe and those will alter the flavor of the cake.
For vanilla or white cakes, use a plain syrup of just sugar and water. You can add a 1/4 tsp of vanilla without altering the flavor much.
For chocolate cakes, add 1/4 cup to 3/4 cup cocoa to the basic syrup recipe to make a chocolate simple syrup. You can use regular cocoa, dark or dutch cocoa – it’s all good.
Chocolate syrup is also good for adding to coffee, topping ice cream, or drizzling on pie.
Use for Cocktails and Other Drinks
Simple syrups are used for cocktails and are considered a must have for those who love making cocktails at home. But they can also be used for all kinds of fun non-alcoholic drinks.
Using the same basic syrup ratio of one part water to one part sugar you can add herbs or fruits to make all kinds of flavored simple syrups.
We drink quite a bit of sweet tea so I like to have simple syrups available for stirring into the tea since sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold drinks. This way people can add as much or as little to their glass of unsweet tea.
We like to use hibiscus syrup to add to our homemade lemonade to make pink lemonade. You can do the same thing with strawberries or other berries.
Lime or lemon syrups are nice for cocktails.
Mint, vanilla, and cinnamon are all for cocktails and coffees.
Truly, you are only limited by your imagination and supplies.
Basic Simple Syrup Recipe
This basic simple syrup recipe can be used for canning, cake making, cocktails and much more.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- Combine water and sugar in a medium sauce pan
- Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.
- Pour the syrup into a clean jar or bottle.
- Store in the refrigerator.
- Use within a month.
Add herbs or fruit pieces to simmering syrup for flavored syrups. Mint, lavender, rosemary, hibiscus, berries, lemon and lime are all good as flavored syrups.
To make chocolate simple syrup add 1/4-3/4 cup cocoa to simmering syrup.
For canning use the following amounts
To make a very light syrup combine 6 1/2 cups water with 3/4 cup sugar.
To make a light syrup combine 5 3/4 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar.
To make a medium syrup combine 5 1/4 cups water and 2 1/4 cups sugar.
To make a heavy syrup combine 5 cups water and 3 1/4 cups sugar.
To make a very heavy syrup combine equal amounts of water and sugar.
Thursday 11th of November 2021
Thank you for posting such a great article.
I was wondering how long jarred sugar water lasts for, and if a weaker "syrup" will stay preserved? I like to pre-make my hummingbird feeder sugar water. (3 parts water to 1 part sugar)
I accidentally jarred some hummer hooch one day, and it made me curious. I had put it into the microwave to boil it so the sugar is good and dissolved as I usually do, but this particular time, I was storing them into larger approx 16oz + recycled jars, that we had originally bought with pasta sauce in them.
I put the lids onto each of the jars that were filled with the boiling liquid as they each came out of the microwave, and was later startled when they each made a loud pop, as the liquid cooled, and the jars were sealing themselves one by one, the lids each getting a concaved top. (Obviously I have zero experience in preserving by jarring)
Now I'm wondering if they will store like any other jarred food? Or do I still need to refrigerate, or freeze (loosening the lid first before going into the freezer, obviously) as I usually do?
It would be great if they could be stored at room temperature, so I can immediately fill the feeders without having to first defrost or wait til the liquid reaches room temperature, but I have no idea what makes it so the contents won't spoil for jarring.
Do I need to have the sugar water boil for a specific amount of time to kill the bacteria, or is having it come just to a boil enough? Or does a 3:1 sugar water preserve this way at all? Thank you! :)
Friday 14th of April 2023
@Angi Schneider, I can my hummingbird food. 1-1 then when I need some I just add 3parts water. It works great, just made more yesterday. Started doing this last summer, made enough to last tell this spring.
Tuesday 7th of December 2021
Those should really be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. There is no reliable recommendations for canning plain simple syrup.