It's time to learn about the beloved British sweetener with the iconic lion on the label.

By Ellen Morrissey
April 05, 2021
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If you didn't grow up in England or one of its former colonies, you may not be familiar with a staple of the British kitchen: golden syrup. The rich, flavorful syrup is found in most pantries and on kitchen counters throughout the United Kingdom, usually in a green and gold tin marked Lyle's, which is the original—and still best-known—brand.

lyle's golden syrup tin

The company's founder, a Scottish businessman named Abram Lyle, owned a sugar refinery in London in the late 19th century. The syrup was a byproduct of the refining process, and Lyle first brought it to market as "Goldie" in the 1880s. As demand grew, he started selling the syrup in those familiar tins, with a lion figuring prominently on the label. Though the lion appears to be sleeping, it's actually dead, with bees swarming above its body. The company's motto ("Out of the strong came forth sweetness") is printed below the lion, as a reference to the biblical story of Samson, in which bees make honey from the carcass of a lion. (Lyle was a deeply religious man.) Though the syrup has been sold the world over since those early days, the design of the tins remains the same as when Lyle first created it.

What Does Golden Syrup Taste Like and How Is It Used?

Golden syrup is thick and amber-colored, with a flavor that's distinct from other sweeteners like honey and corn syrup. (The former has a more pronounced flavor and the latter is so mild as to be almost flavorless, unless you count pure sweetness as a flavor.) Fans of golden syrup describe it as much more rich and satisfying, uniquely buttery and caramel-like. Golden syrup is an essential ingredient in many British desserts, especially cookies like brandy snaps and Australian Anzac Biscuits, as well as gingerbreads, steamed sponge cakes and puddings, baked tarts, and toffees.

The syrup is also crucial to the flavor of British flapjacks, a type of baked oat bar cookie that bears no resemblance to American pancakes—though a drizzle of Lyle's makes a very nice topping for those, too. Similarly, it's delicious stirred into oatmeal or yogurt with fresh or dried fruit, or in place of simple syrup in cocktails. Also known as light treacle, golden syrup makes its way into recipes with treacle in the title, like this Blood Orange Treacle Pudding. It's not to be confused with treacle, however, which is closer to molasses or dark corn syrup in its consistency, though it doesn't quite have the same flavor.

What Can You Use in Place of Golden Syrup?

In her cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig ($22.99, amazon.com), British chef April Bloomfield says, "There's no real substitute for golden syrup, but if you can't lay hands on any, you can substitute two parts light corn syrup and one part molasses." There was a time when a can of golden syrup was hard to come by in the United States, and recipes for British favorites were adapted to include corn syrup or honey in its place. Now that golden syrup is easy to find in larger American supermarkets, specialty grocers, and online, you can always use it in place of the corn syrup and molasses called for in such recipes. Who knows? You may even come to prefer it in American recipes, too.

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