Just How Simple is Simple Syrup?
- article by Colleen Graham
Call me a drink snob or just a cocktail geek, but there are times when I take my profession seriously in my personal life. I am that "crazy" lady who has stopped a fellow shopper from putting a liter of Hawkeye Vodka in their cart and pointed out a superior (also budget-friendly) option. And yes, I have been known to give local stores recommendations for 'boutique' sodas when I noticed them ramping up their craft beer game.
Everyone should have a great drink and sometimes I cannot help myself when it comes to passing on what I know. However, the one thing - that single ingredient - that will stop me every time no matter how busy I am is simple syrup!
I have been known to approach people who have a bottle of simple syrup in their shopping basket. The conversation usually begins with, "Excuse me, ma'am, do you have sugar, water and a saucepan at home?" They're in shock at first (or look around for a hidden camera) but once I explain the 'secret' behind that $2-5 bottle they're holding, they are thankful.
So, pursuers of good drinks and fellow believers in frugality... help me spread the word about how simple simple syrup really is!
How to Make Simple Syrup
Anyone can make up a batch of simple syrup and all you need is a few minutes in the kitchen. It can be adjusted to fit your drinking style or needs at the moment. You can make enough to last for weeks of drinking or just enough for a one-night party.
The sweetness can also be adapted: For a rich simple syrup, use 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Don't want it too sweet? Use equal parts sugar and water.
- Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Add sugar and stir constantly until dissolved.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Cool and bottle.
Really, that's it! I typically mix up a batch of syrup while preparing my first cup of coffee in the morning or while making dinner at night. It's a great side project for those times when you have to be in the kitchen.
A Few Tips and Tricks for Simple Syrup
Use Different Sugars
White sugar is the most common base and it's cheap, so it makes a great simple syrup. If you like, you can demerara - a raw sugar - to get a richer flavor. For winter drinks like the Hot Toddy, cut the white sugar in half and add some brown sugar with seasonal spices.
Do you need to use an alternative sweetener? I've made simple syrup for diabetics and others who need to cut out sugars and it's okay. I haven't personally developed a taste for Splenda, Truvia (or other stevia ingredients), but those that use it regularly enjoy the syrups. It is a viable option and you may need to do some adjustments or add flavors.
Once you get the simple syrup-making bug, you will discover that adding flavor is just as easy.
I cannot have coffee (and enjoy it, anyway) without my homemade cinnamon syrup and will make four cups at a time. Fresh mint leaves can be added to make your Mojitos and Mint Juleps a little easier or preserve mint that is on the verge of going bad. Even a teaspoon of vanilla extract can add richness to simple syrup!
There are two ways to approach fruit syrups:
- The easiest is to use the juice and cut the water. I typically use equal parts juice and water unless it's a tart citrus like lemon or grapefruit. In that case, it's usually a 2:1 water to juice ratio.
- Fresh, juicy fruits like berries, melons and pomegranate can be used as well. Be sure to muddle the fruit to release their juices, then pour everything into the water. Again, adjusting the water is necessary and I like to begin with the 2:1 theory.
(FYI: Real grenadine uses pomegranate and is a thicker simple syrup. Most people associate the red syrup with cherries, but pomegranate is best. You can make your own grenadine using this syrup recipe, too!)
Steep and Strain
There are two keys to flavored syrups: steeping and straining.
You want to give the flavor time to infuse the syrup properly, so steeping is necessary. The time will vary depending on which ingredients you're using and how much you add.
For my cinnamon syrup, I will typically steep one stick for at least 5 hours and this is a good timeframe for most spices. Herb, flower and fruit syrups should be tasted after an hour, then every hour after that until it reaches your desired flavor.
Straining is just as important. You don't want a chunky fruit syrup or one with bits of herb that get stuck in your teeth. In most cases, a fine mesh strainer will do fine. For strawberries and other ingredients that have tiny bits, a cheesecloth may be needed. Place your strainer inside the funnel while bottling and this becomes a one-step process.
... And, The Best Part
The beauty of simple syrup is that you can experiment with small batches until you get it exactly how you like it. Take notes and once you find those perfect proportions, make up a big batch. It's one of the cheapest, easiest and most fun drink ingredients to play around with and your drinking experience will be better for it.