Also referred to as "sugar syrup," simple syrup is a liquefied form of sugar that is commonly used to sweeten cocktails, iced tea, iced coffee, lemonade, and other cold drinks. Because it is a liquid sweetener, it is much easier to blend into cold beverages than regular sugar.
But simple syrup is not just for drinking—it can also be used to sweeten foods, such as fruits and baked goods. It is usually drizzled over desserts or used as a glaze. Although you can buy simple syrup from specialty grocery stores and some liquor stores, it is much more economical to make your own simple syrup at home.
Making Simple Syrup
It is truly a simple process to turn sugar into a syrup, a technique that's achieved by boiling sugar with water. Typically, the ratio of sugar to water falls between 1:1 to 2:1. The mixture is simmered for around 10 minutes, usually until the liquid has reduced to about half its original volume. Thus, if you used 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar (or 2 cups total), you would simmer the mixture down to about 1 cup.
When stored in a sanitized, tightly sealed container (such as a bottle or a Mason jar) in a cool environment, simple syrup will usually keep for 6 months or more. To prolong its shelf life, you can add a small quantity of vodka (about 1 shot of vodka per 2 cups of simple syrup).
Flavored Simple Syrup
The most common variation of simple syrup is flavored simple syrup. A flavored simple syrup is prepared by adding an ingredient or two to the sugar-water mixture as you boil it or as it is cooling, and then (if the additive is solid) straining the syrup to remove the ingredient.
Common flavors for flavored simple syrups include vanilla, ginger, mint, cinnamon, and lemon and are most often used to make specialty cocktails, quick lemonade, flavored iced teas, flavored hot or iced coffees, and milk steamers. They are a staple in coffee shops since they are used in most flavored coffee drinks and milk steamers. Flavored simple syrups are also sometimes used as a topping on sliced fresh fruit, pancakes, cakes, other baked goods, and ice creams.
Variations of Simple Syrup
Although simple syrup is made with just two ingredients, using a different type of sugar will alter the flavor, color, and texture of the final product. Rich simple syrup, also called Demerara syrup, is a simple syrup variation made with a type of light brown, raw sugar called Demerara sugar. Some prefer it because it has a richer flavor than traditional simple syrup. However, it has a brownish hue, so it will alter the color of clear or light-shaded drinks (such as vodka-based cocktails or milk steamers). Similar variations of simple syrup are made with brown sugar or turbinado sugar.
In more experimental bars in North America as well as coffee bars in Japan and in parts of Europe, another variation of simple syrup called gomme syrup or gum syrup is commonly used. ("Gomme" is French for "gum.") It differs from regular simple syrup in that it contains gum arabic, a sub-Saharan tree sap which emulsifies the mixture and allows for a higher ratio of sugar to water without crystallization (which would give the syrup a chunky or rough texture). Since it contains gum arabic, gomme syrup adds not only sweetness but a slight change in the mouthfeel of drinks. The texture of gomme syrup is often described as "smooth" or "silky."
On the other end of the spectrum of simple syrups is an easy variation called bar simple syrup, made without boiling the mixture. To prepare it, you simply shake a bottle containing equal parts sugar and water until the sugar has fully dissolved. Although this preparation method is easy, it does not make as thick or flavorful of a syrup.
In the culinary world, another common variation on simple syrup is simple syrup gel which is made by adding pectin to the mixture. Plain and flavored simple syrup gels are commonly used as bases for fruit sauces, fruit preserves, and topping for fruits and baked goods.
Simple Syrup Recipes
For a basic simple syrup, all you need is equal parts sugar and water. But since this recipe really is "simple," why not add a bit of flavor to the mix? Although simple syrups are known as an ingredient in cocktails, you can also sweeten up iced tea as well as add depth to desserts and breakfast treats. Making flavored simple syrups is as easy as adding common flavoring agents, including fruit, herbs, and spices.
Add a dash of cinnamon simple syrup to your morning coffee or afternoon tea, or use it to warm up the flavor to your cocktails. You can create interesting herbal cocktails like the eucalyptus martini with eucalyptus simple syrup, and bring an aromatic botanical flavor to any drink with lavender simple syrup.
A lemon simple syrup can add zip to both cocktails and desserts, while the combination of lemon and ginger is delicious poured over cakes or fresh fruit. The addition of mint will be welcome in a summertime drink as well as drizzled over a simple dessert and a pomegranate simple syrup is ideal for bread, desserts, pancakes, and other sweets.
Rose flavor is very subtle and gently aromatic, great for a variety of drinks, and a simple syrup with orange juice will sweeten and add moisture to cakes and other desserts. Strawberry simple syrup is delicious warmed up and drizzled over ice cream, pancakes, and other desserts, and both vanilla and vanilla-ginger simple syrups feature the pure taste of real vanilla beans and will enhance the basic flavors of certain cocktails, as well as taste wonderful spooned over pancakes or waffles.