What kind of syrup is used in shaved ice?

Shaved ice is a popular summertime treat that can be found all over the world. It consists of fine shards of ice that are doused with brightly-colored, flavorful syrups. But what types of syrups are traditionally used to flavor shaved ice? There are a few main categories that encompass most shaved ice syrups.

Fruit Syrups

Fruit syrups are some of the most commonly used and beloved syrups for shaved ice. Made from real fruit juices, purees, and concentrates, fruit syrups provide the vibrant colors and fresh, fruity flavors that shaved ice is known for. Some popular fruit syrup flavors include:

  • Cherry
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Watermelon
  • Grape
  • Peach
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberry
  • Lemon
  • Lime

Fruit syrups are naturally sweet, so they require little or no additional sweeteners. The bright colors and candy-like fruit flavors make fruit syrups a fun, fruity topping for shaved ice.

Floral and Herbal Syrups

In some regions, especially Southeast Asia, floral and herbal syrups are preferred for shaved ice. These syrups are made from infused simple syrups, extracting the flavors and colors from fresh flowers like roses and orchids or herbs like pandan, lemongrass, and basil.

Some popular floral and herbal syrup flavors for shaved ice include:

  • Rose
  • Orchid
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Pandan
  • Lemongrass
  • Basil

The flowery, perfumed notes and grassy, herbal flavors make for light and aromatic shaved ice syrups. These syrups have an exotic appeal that adds a unique twist to the classic shaved ice treat.

Sweet Cream Syrups

Sweet cream syrups have a deliciously rich, velvety texture that makes them perfect drizzled over shaved ice. Often called “milk syrups”, these syrups get their sweet flavor from dairy ingredients like milk, cream, condensed milk, or powdered milk. Some popular sweet cream syrup flavors include:

  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Strawberry
  • Coffee
  • Thai tea
  • Green tea
  • Ube (purple yam)

The creamy consistency helps the syrups coat each ice shard evenly. Sweet cream syrups pair especially well with fruit syrups, creating colorful swirls and flavor combinations.

Savory Syrups

While most shaved ice syrups are fruit or cream based, some cultures enjoy drizzling savory syrups on their shaved ice. In Japan, condensed broths are made from ingredients like kelp, bonito, and soy sauce. The savory umami flavor of the broth syrups offset the icy sweetness.

Some popular savory syrups used on shaved ice include:

  • Dashi (Japanese kelp and bonito broth)
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Spicy mayo
  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Ponzu (citrus-soy sauce)

The salty, savory flavors create an unexpected twist on the classic sweet shaved ice dessert. Savory syrups open up creative flavor possibilities beyond just fruit and cream.

Artificial Flavor Syrups

Many shaved ice stands rely on artificial syrups for their flavor punch and vibrant colors. These syrups use artificial flavors and dyes to mimic popular fruit and cream flavors. While they lack the natural, fresh flavor of real fruit syrups, artificial syrups provide concentrated, candy-like sweetness at a lower cost.

Some artificial shaved ice syrup flavors include:

  • Cherry
  • Blue raspberry
  • Green apple
  • Grape
  • Watermelon
  • Pina colada
  • Tiger’s blood (watermelon, coconut, strawberry)
  • Wedding cake (vanilla and almond)
  • Cotton candy

The bright dye colors and punchy artificial flavors make these syrups fun and whimsical, even if they don’t taste exactly like the real thing.

Regional Syrup Traditions

While all types of syrups are enjoyed around the world, certain syrups are strongly associated with shaved ice in specific regions. Looking at the traditional syrups used can tell you a lot about local tastes, ingredients, and food culture.


In the Hawaiian Islands, two syrups reign supreme on shave ice:

  • POG – passionfruit, orange, and guava nectar
  • Hawaiian Punch – pineapple, orange, guava, lemon, and strawberry

The tropical fruit flavors reflect the abundance of fresh local produce in Hawaii. Locals traditionally top their shave ice with sweetened condensed milk and lilikoi (passionfruit) syrup.


In Japan, shaved ice (kakigori) showcases seasonal ingredients:

  • Spring – sakura (cherry blossom), matcha green tea
  • Summer – tsuyu (broth) syrup, mango, blue curacao
  • Fall – chestnut, sweet potato, pumpkin
  • Winter – matcha green tea, adzuki bean paste

Japanese kakigori highlights fresh, subtle flavors like cherry blossoms, roasted sweet potatoes, and matcha tea. Condensed milk is rarely used.


In Korea, brightly colored, artificial fruit syrups top shaved ice desserts (patbingsu):

  • Strawberry
  • Mango
  • Melon
  • Green tea
  • Injeolmi (sweet rice cake)
  • Red bean

Lashings of sweetened condensed milk, fruit cubes, cookies, and rice cakes make Korean patbingsu more of an over-the-top dessert.


In the Philippines, shaved ice desserts (halo halo) incorporate local ingredients:

  • Ube – mashed purple yam
  • Leche flan – caramel egg custard
  • Pinipig – crispy young rice grains
  • Nata de coco – jelly cubes

The ube and leche flan flavors reflect the Filipino tradition of combining native flavors with Spanish colonial ingredients.

New Orleans

In New Orleans, signature local syrups give snowballs their Louisiana flair:

  • Chicory – Coffee & chicory root syrup
  • Ponchatoula strawberry
  • Cream of nectarine
  • Wedding cake – Almond, vanilla, cream cheese

From chicory coffee to Ponchatoula strawberries, New Orleans snowball flavors incorporate regional specialties.

Syrup Holding Vessels

Once shaved ice syrups are mixed, they need to be held in dispensing vessels so they can be drizzled over the dessert. The vessels keep the syrups contained, sealed, and easy to pour. Here are some common types of syrup holding vessels:

Vessel Description
Squeeze Bottles Plastic bottles with narrow tips, used for drizzling thin streams of syrup
Pitchers Large plastic or glass pitchers with pouring spouts, used for holding large amounts of syrup
Pumps Wall-mounted pumps connected to syrup bags, push a lever to dispense syrup
Cans Sealed metal cans with pour spouts, hold concentrated syrup

The vessel chosen depends on factors like the volume of syrup needed, serving speed, and pour control. Squeeze bottles provide the most precision, while pitchers or pumps work for high volume.

Making Syrups for Shaved Ice

While ready-made syrups can be purchased, many shaved ice businesses make their own unique syrups in-house. Here is an overview of the basic process:

Fruit Syrup

  • Wash, hull, and chop fresh fruit into pieces
  • Purée fruit into a pulp, adding a small amount of water if needed
  • Optionally, strain purée to remove seeds and skins
  • Measure purée and combine with an equal amount of sugar by volume
  • Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes
  • Remove from heat and let cool
  • Bottle, refrigerate, and store for up to 1 month

Adjust sugar to taste – use less for tart fruits and more for sweeter fruits.

Floral Syrup

  • Fill a pot with fresh flowers, herbs, or leaves (like roses or lemongrass)
  • Add water just to cover and bring to a boil
  • Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1-2 hours
  • Strain liquid through a cheesecloth into a clean pot
  • Add an equal amount of sugar by volume and boil for 10-15 minutes
  • Let cool, bottle, and refrigerate for 1-2 weeks

Use more blooms or leaves for stronger flavor. Avoid overheating to prevent bitterness.

Sweet Cream

  • Mix equal parts whole milk and heavy cream
  • Whisk in sweetened condensed milk to taste
  • For flavor variations, whisk in extracts, cocoas, fruit purées, etc
  • Refrigerate in a squeeze bottle or dispenser

Adjust ratios to achieve desired consistency – more cream = thicker syrup.

Savory Syrup

  • Simmer broth ingredients like kelp, mushrooms, bonito flakes, soy sauce
  • Strain through cheesecloth
  • Mix in a pinch of salt and sugar to taste
  • Cool, refrigerate, and use within 1 week

For rich flavor, use dashi broth made from kombu kelp and bonito flakes.

Storing and Handling Syrups

To keep syrups safe and usable for as long as possible:

  • Refrigerate syrups at 34-40°F after making
  • Store in clean squeeze bottles, pitchers, or dispenser bags
  • Date syrups and use within 1 month for best quality
  • Fruit and cream syrups last 1-2 weeks after opening
  • Savory syrups last only 5-7 days after opening
  • Keep lids sealed and clean to prevent mold
  • Label syrup bottles clearly for organization
  • Pour out cleanly rather than double-dipping bottles to prevent cross-contamination

Proper refrigeration and handling keeps syrups fresh and safe to consume. Discard any moldy or spoiled syrups.

Customizing Flavor Combinations

One of the fun parts about shaved ice is mixing and matching syrup flavors. Custom combinations make each dessert unique. Some tips for building your own flavor profile:

  • Choose 2-3 complementary syrup flavors
  • Include different textures – fruit + cream
  • Add crunchy toppings like mochi or cookies
  • Drizzle sauces like condensed milk, chocolate, or honey
  • Spice it up with syrups like chile-mango or raspberry jalapeño
  • Play with colors and arrange the order of pouring

The possibilities are endless! Part of the experience is crafting your perfect flavor profile.

Popular Shaved Ice Combinations

Here are some favorite shaved ice flavor combinations from around the world:

Flavor 1 Flavor 2 Flavor 3
Mango Passionfruit Lime
Raspberry Lychee Rosewater
Tiger’s Blood Wedding Cake N/A
Green Tea Red Bean Condensed Milk
Ube Mango Coconut
Blueberry Lavender Honey
Guava Lychee Lilikoi

Even classic combos like cherry & lemon or chocolate & vanilla are perennial favorites. Don’t be afraid to get creative!


Shaved ice is a treat that’s loved all over the globe, but it’s the syrups that add the much-anticipated sweetness. Real fruit syrups offer fresh flavor, floral syrups provide delicate aroma, velvety cream syrups add richness, while artificial syrups bring whimsical fun. Traditional flavors like ube, calamansi, injeolmi, and New Orleans chicory give shaved ice a delicious sense of place. With the array of flavors, textures, and possible combinations, the syrup world of shaved ice is wide open for exploration and experimentation. Any way you pour it, flavorful syrups are what make shaved ice an iconic summertime treat.

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