What is the closest thing to corn syrup?

Quick Answers

The closest substitutes for corn syrup are:

  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Coconut nectar
  • Agave nectar

When choosing an alternative, consider the differences in flavor, nutrition, and performance in recipes. Maple syrup and honey tend to have the most similar flavor. Brown rice syrup is the most neutral. Agave nectar is thinner than corn syrup. Coconut nectar has a hint of coconut flavor.

What is Corn Syrup?

Corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn starch. It comes in several varieties:

  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – sweeter than regular corn syrup, this is the most common type used in processed foods. HFCS is made by converting some of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose.
  • Light or dark corn syrup – Light corn syrup is clear in color. Dark corn syrup has added caramel color and flavor. Both are 100% glucose.
  • Glucose syrup – Essentially another name for corn syrup made from starch.

The different types of corn syrup vary in sweetness:

  • HFCS – sweeter than sucrose (table sugar)
  • Dark corn syrup – less sweet than sucrose
  • Light corn syrup – about as sweet as sucrose

Compared to granulated white sugar, corn syrup:

  • Is runnier and more viscous
  • Does not crystallize
  • Adds moisture and texture to foods
  • Is less sweet than sugar when measured cup-for-cup

These properties make corn syrup a popular ingredient in numerous processed foods, including:

  • Sodas and fruit juices
  • Candy
  • Cereal
  • Ice cream
  • Canned fruits
  • Condiments like ketchup
  • Baked goods – use light or dark corn syrup

In baked goods, corn syrup can improve moisture, texture, and prevent crystallization. In candies, it controls sweetness and crystallization. In frozen foods, it prevents sugar crystals from forming.

Reasons to Substitute for Corn Syrup

There are a few reasons you may want to avoid corn syrup and find substitutes:

  • Avoid added sugars – Corn syrup is high in empty calories and added sugar. Excessive added sugar intake has been linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Blood sugar control – For people with diabetes or prediabetes, corn syrup can spike blood sugar levels due to its high glycemic index.
  • Avoid processed foods – Swapping corn syrup for less processed alternatives can help reduce consumption of heavily processed foods.
  • Food sensitivities – A small portion of the population may be sensitive or allergic to corn and corn-derived ingredients.

While small amounts of corn syrup in moderation are likely fine for most people, there are valid reasons to limit intake or use substitutes.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is one of the closest substitutes for corn syrup in terms of flavor and texture. It has these advantages:

  • Contains nutrients like manganese, riboflavin, zinc and calcium
  • Has antioxidants
  • Offers some minerals like potassium and magnesium
  • Has a glycemic index lower than corn syrup
  • Consists of simple sugars – sucrose, glucose, and fructose
  • Has a similar texture and viscosity to corn syrup
  • Has a subtle caramelized flavor that’s relatively neutral

The main downsides of maple syrup compared to corn syrup are:

  • More expensive
  • Stronger flavor that may overpower more delicate recipes
  • Not quite as effective for preventing crystallization

Maple syrup works best in recipes like:

  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Oatmeal and granola
  • Sweet glazes for vegetables and meats
  • Cookies and other baked goods

When using as a 1:1 substitute, you may need to reduce other liquids slightly to account for maple syrup’s higher moisture content. For candy recipes, pair maple syrup with corn syrup for crystallization prevention.

Grade A vs Grade B Maple Syrup

Grade A maple syrup has a lighter color and more delicate flavor. Grade B is darker with a more pronounced maple flavor. Both will work as corn syrup substitutes, but Grade B may overpower very delicate recipes.


Like maple syrup, honey shares some similarities with corn syrup:

  • Sweet flavor
  • Viscous, sticky texture
  • High sugar content
  • Low saturation point so it inhibits crystallization
  • Moisture-retaining abilities

Honey offers some benefits over corn syrup:

  • Contains antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals
  • Has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Rates lower on the glycemic index so impacts blood sugar less

Potential downsides of honey vs corn syrup:

  • Stronger flavor depending on variety – may overpower delicate recipes
  • Not quite as effective at preventing crystallization
  • More expensive
  • Contains trace amounts of bee pollen and propolis that some people may be allergic to

Honey works well in recipes like:

  • Tea, coffee, and lemonade sweetener
  • Salad dressings and sauces
  • Glazes for vegetables and meat
  • Baked goods – cookies, cakes, muffins
  • Frozen treats

For baking, darker honeys like buckwheat, chestnut, and blackberry work best. Lighter honeys can be overpowered. Pair honey with maple syrup or corn syrup in candy recipes to prevent crystallization.

Raw vs Regular Honey

Raw honey is less processed so it retains more vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. It has a bolder, more nuanced flavor. Use raw honey in recipes where you want the honey flavor to shine through. Regular honey has a milder taste but still works well in baking and sauces.

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is made by cooking brown rice with enzymes to break down the rice’s starches into maltose, a simple sugar. The resulting syrup has these attributes:

  • Neutral in flavor – doesn’t overpower recipes
  • Mildly sweet – about half as sweet as sugar
  • Thick, viscous consistency similar to corn syrup
  • Doesn’t crystallize
  • Excellent moisture retention
  • Non-GMO and gluten free

Compared to corn syrup, brown rice syrup offers a few advantages:

  • Lower glycemic impact – doesn’t spike blood sugar as dramatically
  • Higher in nutrients like manganese, magnesium, and B vitamins
  • No high fructose content
  • Not made from GMO corn

Potential downsides:

  • Less sweet than corn syrup – may need to adjust other sugars in recipes
  • More expensive
  • Less effective at preventing crystallization

Brown rice syrup works well in:

  • Granola bars, energy bars
  • Fruit pies, crisps
  • Sweet glazes
  • Peanut butter cookies
  • Sweet & salty snack mixes

Pair it with maple syrup, honey, or corn syrup in candy recipes to prevent crystallization.

Coconut Nectar

Coconut nectar (coconut sap) is made from the sap of coconut palms. It has some beneficial properties compared to corn syrup:

  • Low glycemic index – gentler on blood sugar
  • High in nutrients like amino acids, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron
  • Neutral, mildly sweet flavor
  • Naturally gluten free and vegan

Downsides of coconut nectar:

  • Thinner, more liquidy than corn syrup
  • Not quite as effective at preventing crystallization
  • Subtle coconut flavor may not work in all recipes
  • More expensive and harder to find

Coconut nectar works well in:

  • Vegan sweets and desserts
  • Fruit pies
  • Asian cuisines
  • Stir fry sauces
  • Glazes and drizzles

For candies and brittles, pair it with a different syrup to prevent crystallization.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar comes from the agave plant. Key attributes:

  • Neutral in flavor
  • Thin, pourable consistency more like corn syrup than maple syrup
  • Less viscous than corn syrup
  • Largely glucose and fructose sugars
  • Vegan and gluten free

Compared to corn syrup, agave nectar:

  • Has a lower glycemic index
  • Less effective at preventing crystallization
  • Can have mineral content like calcium, magnesium, and iron

Potential downsides:

  • High fructose content – largely fructose sugar
  • Less effective moisture retention
  • More expensive
  • Slightly thinner than corn syrup
  • Mild caramelized flavor

Agave nectar works well in:

  • Teas and lemonades
  • Fruit salads
  • Glazes and sauces
  • Smoothies

For baking, pair it with a thickener like corn starch or arrowroot powder to improve moisture retention. Add maple or honey to candy recipes.

Choosing the Best Corn Syrup Substitute

When deciding which corn syrup alternative to use, consider:

  • Intended use – Baking, candy, icing, glazing, etc.
  • Flavor – Will the subsitute’s flavor work or overpower?
  • Cost and availability
  • Viscosity – Does the thickness and moisture retention match needs?
  • Sweetness level
  • Ability to inhibit crystallization
  • Benefits – Nutrition, glycemic impact, etc.

This comparison table summarizes some key differences:

Substitute Flavors Glycemic Index Crystallization Prevention
Maple Syrup Maple, caramelized 54 Moderate
Honey Flowery, sweet 58 Moderate
Brown Rice Syrup Neutral 25 Low
Coconut Nectar Hint of coconut 35 Low
Agave Nectar Slight caramelized 15 Low


For those looking to avoid corn syrup, there are several suitable alternatives that offer their own unique benefits. Maple syrup and honey are the most direct substitutes in terms of texture and flavor. Brown rice syrup offers more nutrients and gentler blood sugar impact. Coconut nectar contains minerals and its subtle flavor can accent coconut-based recipes. Agave nectar is neutrally flavored and thin like corn syrup.

When substituting, you may need to play around with recipe adjustments like:

  • Reduce liquids slightly to account for thicker syrups
  • Increase spices and flavors to balance out strong syrup flavors
  • Add thickeners if using a thinner syrup like agave nectar
  • Pair syrups like coconut nectar with maple syrup or honey for candy recipes
  • Adjust any accompanying sweeteners to account for sweetness differences

With some tweaking, these corn syrup alternatives can produce delicious results across a range of recipes. Consider your individual needs, recipe, and preferences when deciding which option may work best.

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