We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Are you in a sticky situation and unsure whether to add light or dark corn syrup to your recipe? No worries! We’re sweet talking about the differences between these two products and how they might impact your recipe.

assorted syrups including light and dark headerShare on Pinterest
Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

Both light and dark corn syrup are called invert sugars, which means they’re liquid at room temperature. They’re made from the starch of corn, which corn syrup producers can form into a sweet, concentrated solution due to its combination of sugars.

The only difference between light and dark syrup comes from the ingredients manufacturers add to that base. Light corn syrup includes vanilla and salt, while dark syrup contains refiner’s syrup (a type of molasses) and sometimes caramel flavoring.

How will it affect flavor?

Light corn syrup is clear and colorless and has a moderately sweet taste. The addition of vanilla may also give foods a smooth, rich flavor. Light corn syrup often makes a cameo in recipes that need just a hint of sweetness, like those with fruit.

Dark corn syrup turns a caramel color because of that molasses addition. This gives it a distinct flavor that tends to add a sweet, smoky taste to foods. It’s often used in dishes like pecan pie and gingerbread cookies.

Thumbs up from us.

How does it impact a recipe?

Beyond the flavor and color of your food, you likely won’t notice a difference whether you use light or dark corn syrup in your recipe.

They’re comparable in terms of calorie and sugar content. Light corn syrup has about 62 calories and 17 grams of sugar per tablespoon, and dark corn syrup provides around 57 calories and 16 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

Using light or dark corn syrup in a recipe gives the food more moisture and prevents sugar crystallization. Corn syrup often plays a key role in fudge, ice cream, and candies, preventing the cooling process from forming sugar crystals that give these foods a grainy texture and keeping their appearance smooth and shiny.

If you’re in the middle of baking and realize you’re out of corn syrup (😱), there’s a simple way to make a corn syrup substitute. This recipe needs only four ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry:

From there:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  2. Once your syrupy smorgasbord has reached a boil, reduce the heat so the mixture is simmering, cover the pan, and let it cook for 3 minutes.
  3. Uncover and keep stirring until it reaches the “soft ball stage” (a cooking term that means the syrup has reached 234–240 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Let it cool, and then store it in a covered container at room temperature.

Going to the dark side: Changing light syrup to dark syrup

If you’ve whipped up a batch of light syrup (or that’s all you have in the pantry) but want to go dark, it’s a simple adjustment.

All you need to do is add 1/4 cup of molasses to 3/4 cup of your light syrup. This helps the syrup keep the same consistency and gives it that robust flavor of dark syrup.

No molasses? You could also dissolve brown sugar in water on the stovetop until it forms a syrup.

Making syrup from scratch

When browsing the internet, you can find various recipes that suggest making corn syrup in different ways. Some even involve using real corn kernels or cornstarch.

Here are some tools you’ll need when making corn syrup from scratch:

Although eating large amounts of sugar isn’t ideal, you can enjoy it in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day (6 teaspoons of sugar) for women and 150 calories per day (9 teaspoons) for men.

If you’re about to whip up a batch of sweet treats but would like to use something else in corn syrup’s place, here are some healthier alternatives.

Honey

Honey is comparable to corn syrup on the nutrient side (it contains about 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar per tablespoon). But it could provide a few extra health benefits. Although research is mixed, a 2017 review concluded that it might have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.

Side note: Kids under 1 year old should not consume any products with honey, since it may contain bacteria that could lead to botulism (a fatal illness that affects your nervous system).

Stevia or monk fruit

These plant-based sweeteners add few or no calories or carbs. The FDA has approved both, reporting that stevia is 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar and monk fruit is 100 to 250 times sweeter.

That’s pretty freakin’ sweet, meaning that you can use plenty less.

Artificial sweeteners

These artificial sweeteners won’t add any calories or carbs to your food, but it’s important to choose based on what you’re cooking. For example, sucralose (aka Splenda) goes well in baked goods since it can maintain its sweetness even when exposed to high heat, according to the FDA.

Be warned that switching sugars may give your dish a different flavor and texture. Another option is to switch out some of the corn syrup for a low sugar option, so you’re reducing the total sugar amount while still keeping the flavor and consistency corn syrup provides.

If you’re looking to put these syrups to the test with specific recipes, give one of these a try!

Many recipes will work just fine whether you have light or dark corn syrup in your pantry.

You may notice a difference in taste, but the texture will come out just as you expect. If you don’t have any corn syrup but your recipe calls for it, you can make a substitute at home with just a few ingredients.