What Are Scandinavian Light and Dark Syrups?

Buying, Cooking, and Substitutions

Close up of syrup dripping from spoon
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Scandinavian recipes often use either light syrup (ljus sirap, or bread syrup) or dark syrup (mörk sirap, or dark bread syrup). Made primarily of beet sugar, they are popular liquid sweeteners found in sweet and savory recipes throughout Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Available from stores that specialize in Scandinavian ingredients, you can also use several substitutions, including golden syrup, treacle, corn syrup, and molasses. These syrups are used in baked goods, candies, and sweetened sauces for meats and dishes like cabbage rolls.

Fast Facts

Place of Origin: Sweden, Finland, Norway

Other Names: ljus sirap, lys syrup, mörk sirap, bread syrup

Substitutes: golden syrup, corn syrup, molasses, treacle

What Is Scandinavian Sirap?

In Scandinavian countries, syrup is spelled sirap. It is made almost entirely of beet sugar, though some syrups also include cane sugar. To understand the use of beet sugar, it's essential to look at sugar's history.

When Sweden's first sugar refinery opened in the middle of the 17th century, sugar was a luxury that only the aristocracy could enjoy. Sugar production started with cane sugar grown in the New World and shipped to Europe, where it was refined and sold at a high price. The shipping blockade during the Napoleonic Wars led to the discovery that sugar could also be produced from beets. With the abolishment of slavery in the mid-19th century, a rise in cane sugar prices came as the manual labor and benefits had to be fairly paid. Sugar beet became a viable alternative.

The number of sugar refineries in Sweden grew to 10 at the start of the 20th century, and they joined together to form the Svenska Sockerfabriks AB (SSA) company in 1907. The company changed a few times and became Dansukker (or Dan Sukker) in 2000, and most sirap is produced under this label.

Varieties

Scandinavian sirup is available in two main varieties: light and dark. The differences are similar to golden syrup and black treacle used in British cooking, or corn syrup and molasses featured in North American recipes. There are a few other types of syrup used in Scandinavian cuisine as well, though most are slight variations.

  • Light syrup (lijus sirap, lys sirap in Norway, or bread syrup) is used as a topping or in baked goods and sauces. The syrup labeled "ekologisk" is organic.
  • Dark syrup (mörk sirap) is primarily reserved as an ingredient, often featured in gingerbread or to enhance the flavor of savory dishes.
  • Vit sirap is a light syrup variation commonly used in wheat and saffron bread recipes.
  • Bröd sirap is light syrup with added malt popularly used in candies and cakes. It is not gluten-free.
  • Glykossirap, or glucose syrup, prevents crystallization, making it an ideal sweetener for creamy, soft frozen desserts like ice cream.

What Does It Taste Like?

Like all syrups, Scandinavian siraps are sweet. The light syrup is the sweetest of the two, with a very thin texture compared to other syrups, and it has a distinctive flavor of brown sugar. The dark syrup is thicker, a bit sweeter, and has a toffee-like taste that is less bitter than American light molasses,

Scandinavian Syrup Uses

In Scandinavian cooking, liquid sweeteners are often used for baked goods. It's featured in traditional holiday cookie recipes like gingersnaps, cinnamon-flavored kolasnittar, and pepparkakor (made with light sirap and spices like nutmeg, clove, ginger, and cardamom). Vörtbröd is a heavy and very dense bread made with dark sirap that has a lovely earthy flavor thanks to the brewer's wort, a by-product of beer making.

Siraps are also used in candies and as a caramelization agent for sauce reductions that pair wonderfully with various meats. Kåldomar is a classic cabbage roll recipe using light syrup with pork, beef, rice, eggs, and spices.

Scandinavian Syrup Substitutes

Scandinavian siraps are most comparable to British golden syrup and treacle, or American molasses rather than maple syrup. While not ideal, in a pinch, you can use light golden syrup (such as Lyle's) or corn syrup instead of light sirap. Use light molasses or treacle instead of dark sirap. Another option is to blend equal parts of dark treacle syrup with golden syrup. Be mindful that these substitutions will yield a decent result in your recipe, but they'll change the intended flavor somewhat.

Where to Buy Scandinavian Syrups

It can be hard to get Scandinavian siraps in the United States, as they're not locally made or broadly used. They can be ordered online from Scandinavian suppliers. If you're planning to bake for the holidays, order well in advance to account for shipping. You might also find them in stores specializing in European foods or products.

Storage

Light and dark siraps should be stored like any other syrup; keep the bottle sealed and at room temperature. The syrups have a very long shelf life and can last a year or two, depending on when it was manufactured. It's best to pay attention to the bottle's expiration date for the best results and discard syrup if you notice crystalization.