What can I use instead of malt syrup for bagels?

Malt syrup is a common ingredient used in bagel recipes to help achieve that signature chewy bagel texture and slight malt flavor. However, malt syrup can be difficult to find in some grocery stores. Luckily, there are several easy substitutes for malt syrup that can be used when making homemade bagels.

Why Do Bagels Use Malt Syrup?

Malt syrup is made from sprouted barley that has been dried and reduced into a thick, sticky syrup. It provides a subtle sweetness and rich, toasty malt flavor to bagels. More importantly, the enzymes in malt syrup help convert starches into sugars, which helps feed the yeast and aids in fermentation. This process allows bagels to achieve that characteristic chewiness.

Malt syrup also browns quickly during baking, contributing to that shiny, crispy crust on a bagel. So when choosing a malt syrup substitute, it is important to consider ingredients that will help with both flavor and texture.

Best Substitutes for Malt Syrup in Bagels

Barley Malt Extract

Barley malt extract is the closest direct substitute for malt syrup. It is made from sprouted, malted barley like traditional malt syrup. Barley malt extract comes in either syrup or powder form. The syrup can be swapped in equal amounts in any recipe that calls for malt syrup. Barley malt powder can be mixed with water to form a syrup-like consistency.

The flavor and aids in fermentation just like malt syrup. The only downside is that barley malt extract can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores. It is most often available at health food stores or online.


Molasses makes an excellent replacement for malt syrup in bagels. Blackstrap or robust molasses varieties have an intense, bittersweet flavor similar to malt. The thick, viscous texture of molasses also mimics the consistency of malt syrup in dough.

Molasses helps kick start yeast fermentation and provides food for the yeast. It also contributes to a nice browned crust and chewy interior texture. Replace malt syrup with an equal amount of molasses in any bagel recipe.


Honey is a great substitute for malt syrup in bagels when you want something a bit sweeter. The enzymes naturally present in honey will help break down starches into sugars to feed yeast fermentation. Honey also helps bagels achieve that signature chewy crumb.

Try using a honey with a robust flavor like wildflower or buckwheat. Replace malt syrup measure for measure with honey. You may need to decrease other sugars slightly in the recipe since honey is sweeter.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar can be used in place of malt syrup in a pinch. It provides sweetness and color that mimics malt. The molasses present in brown sugar also enhances chewiness and crust color development. Replace malt syrup measure for measure with dark brown sugar for the richest flavor.

Since brown sugar does not contain enzymes, be sure to proof your yeast properly before mixing the dough. This ensures the yeast is active and ready to ferment the bagel dough without the help of malt syrup.

Dark Corn Syrup

Dark corn syrup is made from refining corn malt and has a similar viscosity and sweetness as malt syrup. It can be substituted measure for measure for malt syrup in bagels, contributing sweetness, color, and moisture. Corn syrup does not have the same enzymatic power of malt, so again make sure yeast is well proofed.

Trebble Malt

Trebble malt is a non-diastatic malt extract made from sprouted barley. It provides color, flavor, and sweetness similar to malt syrup without the starch converting enzymes. Replace malt syrup measure for measure with trebble malt. Combine with a small amount of barley malt syrup or extract to add back in some fermentation power if needed.

Sorghum Syrup

Sorghum syrup is made from sweet sorghum grass and has a mild sweet flavor. Its thick, sticky texture makes it a great substitute for malt syrup. Replace malt syrup measure for measure with sorghum. Mix in a small amount of barley malt powder or extract if more amylase enzymes are needed for proper dough fermentation.

Tips for Using Malt Syrup Substitutes in Bagels

When using a malt syrup alternative in your bagel recipe, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for substitutes with a thick, syrupy consistency similar to malt syrup like molasses, honey, or dark corn syrup.
  • If using a sweetener like honey or brown sugar, you may need to slightly decrease other sugars so bagels do not end up too sweet.
  • Proof yeast thoroughly to kick start fermentation if using a substitute without enzymes like brown sugar or corn syrup.
  • Add a small amount of barley malt powder or extract ifneeded to provide amylase enzymes for proper dough fermentation.
  • Darker substitutes like molasses or brown sugar will contribute to faster browning and a richer crust color.
  • Add subs measure for measure for malt syrup unless recipe specifies otherwise.

How to Make Bagels Without Malt Syrup

If you don’t have malt syrup or any suitable substitute on hand, you can actually make bagels without it. Here are two options:

Increase the Yeast

Without malt syrup to kickstart yeast activity, you can simply increase the amount of yeast in the recipe. Use about 1 1/2 times the amount of instant yeast called for. Proof the yeast with warm water and a teaspoon of sugar for 5-10 minutes before adding to the dough. The increased yeast will produce more carbon dioxide needed for rising and fermenting the dough.

Add a Sourdough Starter

Incorporating a sourdough starter is a great way to get fermentation action without malt syrup. About 30-40% of the dough weight can be refreshed sourdough starter. The natural yeasts and bacteria will break down starches and produce lactic acid for flavor. The starter also leavens the bagels and contributes to that chewy texture.

Best Malt Syrup Substitute for Bagels

Here is a quick summary of the best malt syrup replacements:

Substitute Notes
Barley malt extract Most similar to malt syrup in flavor, sweetness, and enzymes
Molasses Contributes color, moisture, and bold flavor
Honey Adds sweetness and enzymes; decreases other sugars
Brown sugar Provides sweetness, moisture, and color
Dark corn syrup Adds moisture, sweetness, and color
Trebble malt Contributes flavor and color without enzymes
Sorghum syrup Replaces thickness and mild sweetness

While malt syrup may be traditional, there are plenty of easy, accessible ingredients that can act as a substitute when making homemade bagels. Just be sure to make necessary adjustments to other sweeteners and yeast when replacing malt syrup.


Malt syrup lends a distinct sweetness, texture, and fermentation power to bagel dough. While it’s the traditional choice, there are several suitable ingredients that can stand in when malt syrup is unavailable. Options like molasses, honey, brown sugar, and barley malt extract mimic the thickness, moisture, sweetness, and enzymatic action of malt syrup. With proper adjustments to yeast and sugars, you can produce tasty homemade bagels without malt syrup. Just keep in mind that darker substitutes like molasses will increase browning, while sweeter swaps like honey or brown sugar may alter the overall flavor. With a little tweaking however, you can make chewy, crave-worthy bagels using whatever you have on hand.

Leave a Comment