These Homemade Syrups Are Better Than the Stuff You See on TikTok

These Homemade Syrups Are Better Than the Stuff You See on TikTok

When someone (Claire) mentioned #syruptok to me, I got excited. It’s maple tapping season, and I’ve always wanted to harvest my own maple syrup. But sadly, as with most exciting ideas, it was ruined by discovering that this was a suburbia-specific trend.

Apparently there are a subset of Australians who have enough space in their house to think “I have simply have too many cabinets! What’s a completely non-essential function that a cabinet could serve?” I live in the city, so I’ve never had those thoughts, but some people do, and they land on the amusing conclusion that they should have a syrup bar, from which they create all kinds of fantastical unicorn coloured drinks, which they put into incredibly adorned containers that carry their own cache. In fact, the making of those cups is its own separate ’Tok trend.

Much like Crystal Light and other “diet” beverages of the 90s, the syrup thing inhabits the edges of diet culture, since most of these syrups are sugar-free, but also mysteriously shelf stable, a feat only accomplished by adding a lot of preservatives. The drinks often feature exotic collabs between powdered drink flavourings and meal replacement shakes, and the idea they’re “healthy” is brow raising.

Leaving the mysteries of suburbia aside, this can’t be cheap, so it’s time to make our own ‘rup. (Don’t tell me to “stop trying to make ‘‘rup’ happen.” It’s happening.)

How syrups are born

Syrups are made with a flavour base and sweetener, in a roughly 3:1 ratio, respectively. A 1:1 ratio gets you jam, if you add pectin, but to make a syrup, all you need to do is make whatever base appeals to you and sweeten it to your liking, so you can add as little or as much as you like up to that 1:1 ratio. The end result won’t be shelf stable, and you’ll need to keep it in the fridge but, unless you’re going for a full syrup bar’s worth of syrup, they don’t take up too much room. Sugar is a preservative, but sugar alone wouldn’t make the syrup shelf-stable; that’s just preservatives, baby.

Unlike jam, you want a clarified flavour base, meaning that you want it to just be liquid, without any fruit pieces or other particulates. If you want chai syrup, for example, you’ll want to make a strong chai tea, then strain it to ensure there’s absolutely no tea leaves left. The best way to do this is to line a strainer with cheesecloth. If you want to make blueberry syrup (and I highly suggest you do) you’ll want to extract the blueberry juice using a steam juicer, or by putting it through an electric juicer, or simmering it down, and then straining it a number of times.

In some cases, if you’ve got a flavour base that’s solid, like chocolate, caramel, marshmallow, or gingerbread, you’ll need to turn that solid into a liquid or a dissolvable powder in order to use it. For caramel syrup, this can be as simple as melting candies with water or milk. Chocolate already comes in a powder (cocoa), but getting it to dissolve requires making a paste first. (It’s not hard, however. We can show you how to do it here.)

You can also use flavours that suggest the end result, rather than using the “real thing,” much like how we flavour things with pumpkin spice instead of pumpkin puree to suggest pumpkin pie. A solid plan C is to look for imitation flavour, which is what is likely in your store bought syrups, anyways. This is how you get to marshmallow.

Once you have your flavour base, you want to concentrate it if you haven’t already. Simmering down tea, juice, coffee or any other flavour is a good starting point.

Choose a sweetener

All sweeteners have different tastes, which is what makes the world delightful. Brown sugar tastes differently from white sugar, or maple syrup, honey, molasses or corn syrup, which is a perfectly fine ingredient that has been unfairly maligned for years.

You can also choose from an embarrassment of sugar-free syrups, such as Stevia, Splenda, Truvia, etc. I’ve never experienced joy from any of them, so I Kondo’d them out of my home, but so long as you understand they will not thicken your ‘rup, just sweeten it, you’re fine using them.

There’s another class of sweeteners you should consider, they’re just newer and more likely to be found at a local health grocer. Brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, monkfruit (the liquid version), allulose, dates or agave syrup are all worth investigating, because some may actually lower your blood glucose and insulin levels.

Simmer to get to syrup

Get your flavour base simmering on the stove top and add your sweetener and then stir, while simmering, until the sweetener is dissolved. Most of the sweeteners we discussed above are going to help thicken your syrup, but to be honest, it’s not essential. Viscosity is not what makes syrup syrup; it’s the sweetness. But if thickness is important to you, then continue to simmer, stirring to prevent burning, until you achieve the desired result.

If you can’t get there with sweetener, there are binders that can help thicken your syrup, like cornstarch or gelatin. To use cornstarch, you’re going to create a slurry. Normally this would be made with water and cornstarch, but for this purpose, use the flavour base (it’s mostly water anyway). Combine them in a 1:1 ratio, using about a tablespoon each. Mix them together until there are no lumps, then add half to your simmering syrup on the stovetop, stir in, simmer for five minutes and see if the thickness is what you want. If it still isn’t thick enough, you can continue to add slurry to achieve the results you want.

If you want to try gelatin, take your syrup off the stove, and add one tablespoon of powdered gelatin directly to each quart of liquid, and stir it in. Now bring it back to the stove, and allow it to simmer for five minutes. Gelatin has to cool to really see the effect, so keep a plate in the freezer, and pour a teaspoonful of syrup on it and tilt the plate to see how thick it’s become. You can always return it to the stove and add more.

Start your ‘rup journey with coffee or lime

To get started, try a coffee syrup. Make one pint of coffee as strong as you enjoy it. It can be all espresso, you could just start with a cold brew of your choice, or even a light decaf. Add ⅔ cup of brown sugar. Stir them together in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium-high heat until you get a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Try it, and see how you like it. Remember you can add as much as two cups of sugar, so add more if you like, simmering for five minutes after each sugar addition. Now make a slurry of one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of water or coffee in a small bowl. Stir it until the lumps are gone and add it to your coffee syrup. Stir it in, and let it simmer for five minutes. Allow to cool, pour into a bottle and put it in the fridge.

If you’d like to try a fruit syrup, grab two pounds of limes and a juicer. Juice the limes and strain the juice to get rid of the pulp. The remaining juice should be light green and cloudy, but have no pulp at all. Weigh the juice and write down the weight. Now add the juice to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add as much sugar as lime juice by weight, and stir the sugar in, effectively making lime simple syrup. Allow the syrup to cool and pour it into a bottle and put it in the fridge.

Bottle that ‘rup

To keep your syrups, you can use a funnel and pour them into bottles to keep in the fridge. Hot tip: Get short enough bottles so they’ll fit between your shelves. You can find them online, obviously, but for years I’ve really loved the IKEA bottles as they’re affordable, pretty and very sturdy.

Syrups will stay good for quite some time. Just keep an eye on them, and toss them if you notice any mould. If you see bubbles, that means your syrup is fermenting, which won’t hurt you, but will change the flavour (and ABV, eventually).

Armed with your new syrups, you can now embark on your new life as a Pinteresting soccer mum who drinks cherry limeade out of a 2,041.16 g bejeweled Stanley cup. Damn it, cherry limeade sounds delicious. I gotta go.

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