Why You Should Swap Out The Water For Flavorful Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is an all-purpose, versatile sweetener used for beverages, ice cream, sorbets, and baked goods. Unlike raw sugar, which has a gritty texture, simple syrup dissolves easily in chilled cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks like iced tea to balance the bitterness. It saves dry cakes by providing moisture and is an easy glaze for loaf and pound cakes.

Traditionally, simple syrup is made by simmering equal parts water and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar will yield roughly 1 ⅓ cups of clear simple syrup, which is slightly thicker than water once it cools. To make a more viscous, sweeter syrup for glazes, dissolve two parts of sugar in one part of water. Simple syrup takes only 2 minutes to make and can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a month. 

While the classic recipe is invaluable, it's only a starting point. You don't need to limit the recipe to a neutral liquid. Instead, change the liquid to add subtle flavor to everything that requires sweetening. For a flavorful version, try swapping water for beverages like coconut water, fruit juice, coffee, tea, vinegar, wine, and liqueurs. The syrups can be further flavored by steeping fruit, spices, and flowers.

How to make a flavored simple syrup

Using the same ratio of sugar to liquid, swap out the water for freshly squeezed citrus for a fruity summer cocktail or mocktail. The juice of one lemon with ½ cup of sugar will make ½ cup of lemon simple syrup that would be perfect for iced tea or our favorite prohibition bourbon cocktail, the Bee's Knees. For a subtle coconut flavor, make a coconut simple syrup with coconut water that pairs well with rum cocktails. 

Try freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange, and lime simple syrup too. Add fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil, or mint to a grapefruit simple syrup for an herbaceous sweetener that pairs well with tequila cocktails. Just strain the herbs before storing the syrup to make it last longer.

Double the amount of sugar to make a thicker citrus glaze perfect for loaf and tea cakes. Or, before juicing the citrus, zest the peel and add it to the glaze to amplify the flavor. Puréed and strained fruit like pineapple make a golden simple syrup with a tropical flavor that could top everything from vanilla ice cream to a vodka cocktail.

Liqueur simple syrups

Unlike a neutral simple syrup, substituting wine flavors your drink or dessert and adds a beautiful hue. This is the perfect way to repurpose leftover wine or the "not so good" bottle of rosé to make a rosé simple syrup. Combine 1 ounce of rosé simple syrup with 5 ounces of seltzer for a summer spritzer you can sip all day, or increase the sugar and make a pink glaze for a tea cake. 

Mixologists use vinegar to make shrubs to create a signature cocktail. These acidic simple syrups can also be purchased but are easily made at home in limitless flavor combinations. Equal parts of apple cider, red wine, or balsamic vinegar simmered with sugar and fruit make a shrub that can last up to six months, strained and covered in the refrigerator. Add 1 tablespoon of herbs or spices to taste to add another dimension. 

Our favorite morning beverages make delicious simple syrups too. For a floral note, use brewed teas like Earl Grey for an interesting cake glaze. Coffee simple syrup would create a dangerous Coffee Martini. It can be made with brewed coffee or espresso powder and equal parts of hot water and sugar. Add a few teaspoons of coffee liqueur for a grown-up syrup, or steep a vanilla bean to make vanilla coffee syrup.