Marshmallows are a classic sweet treat that many people enjoy. The fluffy, pillowy texture comes from mixing sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin. However, some people want to avoid corn syrup for health or dietary reasons. Luckily, there are several easy substitutions you can use in place of corn syrup when making homemade marshmallows.
Why Do Marshmallows Contain Corn Syrup?
Corn syrup is an important ingredient in getting the right texture in marshmallows. It prevents the sugars from crystallizing and adds viscosity to the mixture. Corn syrup contains glucose, which helps keep the sugars dissolved. This results in a smooth, creamy marshmallow.
Without corn syrup, the sugars would recrystallize while cooking. This would lead to a grainy, gritty texture. The marshmallow would also become hard and dense instead of light and fluffy.
Best Substitutes for Corn Syrup in Marshmallows
When making homemade marshmallows, you can replace corn syrup with a few different options:
- Honey – Honey provides sweetness and interferes with crystallization similar to corn syrup. Replace corn syrup measure for measure.
- Golden syrup – This cane sugar-based syrup has a thick, smooth texture like corn syrup. Use the same amount as you would corn syrup.
- Maple syrup – Maple syrup contains sucrose which helps prevent crystallization. Use 3/4 cup for every 1 cup corn syrup.
- Glucose syrup – Glucose syrup is made from breaking down starch into sugars. It has properties very close to corn syrup. Substitute an equal amount.
- Agave nectar – With its neutral flavor, agave nectar can replace corn syrup at a 1:1 ratio.
Tips for Using Corn Syrup Substitutes
When using a substitute in place of corn syrup, keep these tips in mind:
- Measure carefully as the proportions matter.
- Heat the substitute before adding to dissolve any crystals.
- Add a small amount of cream of tartar or lemon juice to increase acidity.
- Cook the syrup mixture to around 240°F to reach the firm ball stage.
- Let the marshmallows set uncovered at room temperature.
Test a small batch first when using an unfamiliar ingredient. The texture and flavor may vary slightly from corn syrup. You may need to tweak the amounts or cooking time.
How Does Corn Syrup Affect Marshmallows?
To understand why it’s so important, let’s look closer at the role corn syrup plays in marshmallows:
- Prevents crystallization – Corn syrup contains glucose which interferes with sucrose crystal formation.
- Controls sweetness – Corn syrup is less sweet than sugar so it balances the overall sweetness.
- Improves moisture retention – Corn syrup is hygroscopic meaning it attracts and retains moisture.
- Adds smooth texture – The viscosity and thickness creates a smooth, creamy texture.
- Influences structure – Corn syrup allows the marshmallow to set into a stable foam structure.
Replacing it requires finding ingredients that mimic some of these properties. Otherwise, you may end up with marshmallows that are too sweet, dry, grainy, or unstable.
Honey is an excellent substitute for corn syrup in marshmallows. It has some key advantages:
- Contains fructose which prevents crystallization.
- Adds flavor and complexity.
- Has a thick, viscous texture.
- Is roughly as sweet as granulated sugar.
You can replace corn syrup with honey at a 1:1 ratio. For every 1 cup of corn syrup, use 1 cup of honey. No adjustments are needed.
One thing to note is that the honey may slightly change the color of the marshmallows. They may turn a light golden color depending on the honey variety. The flavor will also take on subtle honey notes.
- Prevents crystallization as well as corn syrup
- Adds unique flavor
- Same thickness and viscosity as corn syrup
- Can change color and flavor of marshmallows
- May have more impurities than corn syrup
2. Golden Syrup
Golden syrup is another excellent choice for replacing corn syrup in marshmallows. It is made from sugar cane and has a light golden color.
Golden syrup contains sucrose, fructose, and glucose. The combination of sugars helps interfere with crystallization. It also has a thick, smooth texture similar to corn syrup.
You can substitute golden syrup in a 1:1 ratio for corn syrup. The results will be marshmallows nearly identical in texture to those made with corn syrup.
- Contains mix of sugars that reduce crystallization
- Has a thick, smooth texture
- Can replace corn syrup measure for measure
- May impart a slight caramelized flavor
- Not quite as effective at preventing crystallization
3. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. It has a sugar content of about 60%, mostly as sucrose. Maple syrup has a thick texture similar to corn syrup.
However, since maple syrup is sweeter than corn syrup, you’ll need to decrease the amount. Use 3/4 cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of corn syrup called for.
Maple syrup will add a subtle maple flavor to the marshmallows. It also has antioxidants and minerals like zinc and magnesium.
- Adds maple flavor
- Has a thick viscosity
- Contains beneficial nutrients
- Not as effective at preventing crystallization
- Marshmallows may have a maple taste
4. Glucose Syrup
Glucose syrup is made by breaking down starch into glucose molecules. There are different grades of glucose syrup depending on the extent to which the starch is broken down.
For marshmallows, a high maltose syrup will provide the closest results to corn syrup. Maltose is a sugar made up of two glucose units bonded together.
Glucose syrup has a smooth, thick texture and high moisture retention abilities. It interferes with sucrose crystallization in a nearly identical way to corn syrup.
You can substitute glucose syrup for corn syrup at a 1:1 ratio. The marshmallow texture and flavor will be very close to the original.
- Nearly identical properties to corn syrup
- Excellent moisture retention
- Minimizes crystallization
- Can be difficult to find in grocery stores
- May provide too much sweetness
5. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar comes from the agave plant native to Mexico. It consists of fructose and glucose. The sugar composition is very similar to high fructose corn syrup.
Agave nectar has a neutral flavor and mild sweetness. It has a thinner consistency than corn syrup, so it may produce a slightly less creamy marshmallow.
However, agave nectar is still an effective corn syrup substitute when making marshmallows. Use a 1:1 ratio for best results.
- Neutral in flavor
- Very close sugar content to corn syrup
- Prevents crystallization well
- Thinner than corn syrup
- May change texture slightly
How to Make Homemade Marshmallows Without Corn Syrup
Making great marshmallows is still possible without corn syrup. Here is an easy recipe and method:
- 3 packets unflavored gelatin (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup substitute (see recommendations above)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- Bloom gelatin – Sprinkle gelatin over the cold water and let soften for 5 minutes.
- Make sugar syrup – Heat sugar, corn syrup substitute, salt, and 1/2 cup water to 240°F in a saucepan. Remove from heat.
- Mix – Beat bloomed gelatin into the sugar syrup until combined.
- Add vanilla – Stir in vanilla extract.
- Whip – Use stand mixer or hand mixer to whip marshmallow base on high speed for 8-10 minutes.
- Prepare pan – Coat an 8×8 pan with cooking spray and dust evenly with powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture.
- Transfer – Pour marshmallow batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
- Dry – Let set uncovered at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight.
- Cut – Invert pan onto cutting board and cut marshmallows into squares.
- Coat – Toss marshmallows in more powdered sugar cornstarch mixture to coat all sides.
The key things to keep in mind are:
- Fully bloom gelatin
- Cook sugar syrup to soft ball stage (240°F)
- Whip marshmallow base to incorporate air
- Let set completely before cutting
As long as you follow the basic chemistry and proper technique, you can achieve perfect homemade marshmallows using your favorite corn syrup substitute.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make marshmallows without corn syrup or gelatin?
It is very difficult to make marshmallows without both corn syrup and gelatin. Gelatin is vital for creating the foamy marshmallow structure. Corn syrup is needed to prevent crystallization of the sugars. Substitutes like agar agar for gelatin or honey for corn syrup can work but may not achieve the exact same texture.
Do I have to use vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is an optional ingredient but recommended. The vanilla enhances the sweetness and gives marshmallows their signature flavor. You can leave it out or substitute almond, maple, or peppermint extracts instead.
How long do homemade marshmallows last?
Homemade marshmallows will last about 3-4 weeks stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Keeping them refrigerated can extend their shelf life. After a couple of weeks, they may start to dry out but will still be edible.
Can I use brown sugar instead of corn syrup in marshmallows?
Brown sugar is not an ideal substitute for corn syrup in homemade marshmallows. The brown sugar does not effectively prevent crystallization. It would change the flavor profile and may create an uneven, gritty texture.
Is it possible to make vegan marshmallows?
Yes, it is possible to make vegan marshmallows without corn syrup or gelatin. Agar agar or pectin are used as gelling agents. Sugar replacements like brown rice syrup or date syrup help prevent crystallization. Aquafaba can also mimic the foaming effect of gelatin.
The Bottom Line
Corn syrup might seem like an irreplaceable ingredient in marshmallows, but there are several easy substitutes. Honey, golden syrup, maple syrup, glucose syrup, and agave nectar all work well. Just remember to follow recipe proportions and cooking techniques closely.
With a high-quality corn syrup alternative and proper methods, you can enjoy homemade marshmallows that are fluffy, smooth, and delicious.