Scandinavian Light and Dark Syrups

European Sweeteners for Baked Goods

Close up of syrup dripping from spoon
Martin Barraud / Getty Images

If you look at any Scandinavian recipes that require liquid sweeteners, chances are that you'll be asked to use either "light syrup" (ljus sirap, or bread syrup) or "dark syrup" (mörk sirap, or dark bread syrup).

In Scandinavian cooking, liquid sweeteners are often used for baked goods like gingersnaps, in candies, as a caramelization agent for sauce reductions, or in cabbage rolls. Light syrup is often used as a topping while dark syrup is used as an ingredient. Unlike maple syrup, siraps are made from beet sugar and are most comparable to British golden syrup and treacle, or American molasses.

It can be hard to get Scandinavian siraps in the United States, as they're not locally made or broadly used. Both light syrup and dark syrup can be ordered online from Scandinavian suppliers, but they're sometimes available in stores that specialize in European foods or products, like Marina Market.

Scandinavian Sirap

At the time of the opening of Sweden's first sugar refinery in the middle of the 17th century, sugar was a luxury that only the aristocracy could enjoy. The raw sugar was produced from cane sugar grown in the New World and shipped to Europe to be refined, thus the high prices for a product that should have been affordable for most considering the prices of the raw material. The shipping blockade during the Napoleonic Wars led to discovering 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 in 2000.

Most sirap is produced under this label and the two syrups, light and dark, come from beet's sugar, rather than corn like most commercial American syrups do.

Substitutes for Scandinavian Light and Dark Syrup

Getting your online order of Scandinavian sirap might take a few days, and many traditional holiday cookie recipes call for the use of sirap. In a pinch, use light golden syrup (Lyle's) or corn syrup instead of light sirap, and light molasses instead or dark sirap.

Light sirap is fairly thin in texture, as syrups go, and very sweet, with a distinctive flavor of brown sugar; dark syrup is a bit sweeter and less bitter than American light molasses, but the taste is close enough that this substitution works well. Another option is to mix Lyle's dark treacle syrup with Lyle's golden syrup in a 50/50 blend.

Be mindful that the substitution will yield a decent result in your recipe, but they'll change the intended flavor somewhat.

Sirap is widely used in baking, like in Kolasnittar cookies (made with light syrup and flavored with cinnamon) or the traditional Christmas cookie Pepparkakor (also made with light sirup and many spices like nutmeg, clove, ginger, and cardamom). Bread like Vörtbröd, heavy and very dense, is made with dark sirap and has a lovely earthy flavor thanks to the brewer's wort, a by-product of beer brewing processes. A classic recipe using light syrup is Kåldomar, stuffed cabbage rolls with pork, beef, rice, eggs, and spices.

Lyle & Sons Brand

Lyle's products are the best substitution for Scandinavian sirap, and they're also more available to American consumers.

When refining sugar, a light syrup is created, which used to go to waste until chemist Charles Eastick perfected a way to refine the leftover syrup into a preservative and sweetener. Eastick worked for Abram Lyle & Sons, who began to market the product in 1885 under the name Golden Syrup. Deemed Britain's oldest brand, Lyle's designs for their tins have remained almost completely unchanged since 1885.