Simple Syrup Is the Most Versatile Sweetener: Here's How to Make and Use It

Plus, learn how to make infused simple syrups that will elevate everything from cocktails to your daily cup of coffee.

mint mojito cocktail
Photo: Getty Images

Simple syrup is one of the most versatile and easy-to-use sweeteners around. It's commonly found in cocktails such as a mojito or an old fashioned, but it can also sweeten lemonade, coffee, iced tea, and other drinks (and even dessert). We consulted drinks experts to learn the best way to make, infuse, and use simple syrup—and asked them to share whether or not it's okay to buy (not make) this ingredient.

What Is Simple Syrup?

Simple syrup is a basic sweetener made from equal parts sugar and water. It can also be flavored with vanilla or citrus zest. It's quick and easy to make and keeps well in the fridge for several weeks.

How to Make Simple Syrup

Making simple syrup is as easy as its name implies.

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine one part sugar with one part water.
  2. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely; then remove from heat.


Classic simple syrup calls for granulated white sugar, but that isn't your only option. Using alternate sweeteners can add different layers of dimension—especially in cocktails. "Any sweetener can be made into a simple syrup," says Brandon Ristaino, co-owner and beverage director of Good Lion Hospitality in Santa Barbara, Calif. "We like to use honey for gin and bourbon cocktails; piloncillo for agave spirits; demerara or turbinado sugar for rum-based cocktails; and kuromitsu (a molasses-like Japanese sweetener) for Japanese flavors."

Robin Wolf, the owner of Highwater SLO in San Luis Obispo, Calif. agrees. "Basically, anything you can use as a sweetener can be used in a simple syrup," she says. "I especially enjoy utilizing a darker sugar like demerara or turbinado. These sugars are less refined and retain more of the molasses quality of the sugar cane. They are great with whiskeys, rums, or darker spirits."

Don't have demerara, piloncillo, or kuromitsu on hand? You can also look to your pantry for sweeteners to use. "I use brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey regularly," says Nichole Roberts, bartender at El Mero Taco in Memphis, Tenn.

Simple Syrup vs. Rich Syrup

A popular variation on simple syrup is rich syrup, which is made using a different ratio of sugar to water. While simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water, rich syrup utilizes two parts of sugar to one part water, yielding a thicker, sweeter result.

As for when would you use rich syrup instead of simple? "Whenever you'd want a sweeter syrup. For example, crushed ice drink often calls for a bit more sugar," says Al Sotack, partner at cocktail bar Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In addition to sweetness, rich syrup adds more viscosity and texture. In the world of cocktails, citrus-forward or fruity drinks (think sour cocktails, like a margarita or a daiquiri) will generally call for simple syrup, and spirit-forward drinks like an old fashioned or a Manhattan, can be enhanced with rich syrup. "If you're looking to enhance the richness of the spirit you're using, you might consider swapping your regular simple syrup for a rich demerara syrup—just keep in mind your recipe might have to change as well," says Beth Serowsky, head bartender at the Chicago cocktail bar Meadowlark.


Making Infused or Flavored Simple Syrup

Infusing a simple syrup with different ingredients and flavor combinations is both fun and easy—plus, the possibilities are endless.


Not sure which flavors to infuse? Many beverage professionals recommend using your favorite tea in place of water. "I love to use a strong-steeped tea in place of the hot water for a wonderful flavor infusion. Earl Grey is a personal favorite, but chamomile and jasmine tea are also wonderful. They are a great addition to any beverage with citrus," she says.


This is another easy variation: Make a fresh juice syrup by replacing the water with fruit juice. "Simply combine one part sugar to one part freshly squeezed and strained fruit juice (by weight), and emulsify and shake vigorously," says Ristaino. Try making a strawberry or raspberry simple syrup during the summer when fresh berries are at their peak.

Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, or even tarragon make incredible infused simple syrups. Add the herb when you remove your syrup base from the heat. "They don't need to steep for a long time, so make sure you're tasting as the syrup cools so you can strain the herbs out once your desired flavor has been reached," says Serowsky. Most of the time, 30 minutes is sufficient.

Spices or Citrus

Your spice rack is another great place to look for ingredients to infuse. Options include peppercorns, star anise, cloves, allspice, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks. Vanilla beans and also coffee or espresso beans also make delicious infused syrups.

Alternatively, raid your refrigerator: Citrus peels and fresh ginger are excellent flavoring agents for a simple syrup. You can use the same maceration method with these as with a herb syrup: Let your spices, beans, or citrus peels steep in the warm syrup and strain them out after about 30 minutes.

These infused syrups are a great addition to your home bar and they're excellent presents. Transfer to a mason jar, add a pretty label, and you have the perfect housewarming or host gift.

How to Use Simple Syrup

Besides cocktails, some other uses for simple syrup include:

  • Non-Alcoholic Mixed Drinks: Syrups infused with creative ingredients can replace some of the complexity that spirits might usually bring to a drink.
  • Hot or Iced Coffee: Vanilla, hazelnut, or spiced syrups can elevate your morning joe.
  • Iced Tea: Fresh juice or herb syrups take iced tea to the next level.
  • Lemonade: Try a mint simple syrup or a simple syrup made with Earl Grey tea in lemonade.
  • Whipped Cream: Instead of using powdered or granulated sugar to sweeten whipped cream, whisk in a herb, vanilla, or espresso bean simple syrup.
  • Strawberry Sorbet: Use a basil simple syrup to sweeten strawberry sorbet and experiment with other syrups when making other sorbets and granita.
  • Cake Layers: Soak cake layers in infused simple syrups.

How to Store Simple Syrup

Our experts recommend storing simple syrup in the refrigerator. When refrigerated, homemade simple syrup can last about a month. And according to Wolf, rich syrup has a longer shelf life and will last for about three months.

Should You Make or Buy Simple Syrup?

Can you buy simple syrup? Absolutely, says Wolf—but there's one downside. "I compare it to buying pre-popped, pre-packaged popcorn," she says. "It's convenient, but you miss the fun and creativity possible doing it on your own, plus it's really simple and cost-efficient to DIY simple syrup."

Most of the beverage pros we consulted recommend making your own. If you'd prefer to buy, Restaino suggests purchasing the simple syrup from Small Hand Foods (he especially likes their Pineapple Gum Syrup).

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