Whether used as food for yeast to make select baked foods rise, as a sweetening agent or for browning, sugar is an important ingredient in many baked foods. Bakers often overlook the myriad of liquid sweeteners and syrups in the marketplace that possess additional, often subtle, benefits beyond these three primary reasons for adding sugar to a dough or batter.

It is important to note that bakers cannot simply perform a 1:1 substitution of a liquid sweetener or syrup for sugar in a formulation. Each has different properties, and the formula may not bake the same way unless other ingredients or usage levels are adjusted.


The most common liquid sugars are invert sugar, corn syrup, honey and molasses. Also, other viscous carbohydrate-based liquids provide unique flavor profiles as well as functional benefits.

To understand how liquid sweeteners differ, it’s imperative to understand the chemical structure of sucrose, also known as granulated sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. Sucrose possesses a relative sweetness of 100, the base for comparing with other sweeteners.

Through a process called inversion, sucrose can be split into its two component sugars, with the resulting product called invert sugar. Traditional invert sugar is a liquid product that contains equal amounts of glucose (relative sweetness about 70) and fructose (relative sweetness about 120). The difference in sweetness levels of the two component sugars results in invert sugar being sweeter than table sugar. Because commercial invert sugars are blends of sucrose and invert syrups, they are available in an array of sugar profiles and sweetness levels.

Corn syrup is somewhat of a misnomer , because it refers to a group of sweeteners that differ in glucose concentration. In fact, commercial corn syrups may contain between 20 to 98% glucose.

Corn syrups enriched with fructose are manufactured from syrups that have been treated to contain as much glucose as possible. Nearly all the glucose in these corn syrups is isomerized into fructose, making them exceptionally sweet. Such high-fructose corn syrups (HFCS) are blended with glucose syrups, resulting in syrups ranging from 42 to 95% fructose, by weight. The more fructose, the sweeter the syrup.

HFCS is typically used for its sweetening power. Bakers turn to other corn syrups such as regular conversion corn syrup (relative sweetness about 30) and high-maltose corn syrup (relative sweetness about 34) for body, bulk and a bit of sweetness. Substituting any corn syrup for sugar can be beneficial to a formulation, because corn syrup contributes smoothness, moisture and chewiness to baked foods such as cakes, cookies and pies. It also makes an ideal glaze and can assist with toppings.

Often characterized as being the most all-natural sweetener, honey happens to be the oldest sweetener known to man. The color and flavor of honey varies with the flower nectar gathered by bees who produce honey. In general, the darker the honey, the stronger its flavor.

Composed primarily of glucose and fructose, honey is typically one to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar. About 95% of the carbohydrates in honey are fermentable, an advantage in bakery applications.

Baked foods made with honey tend to be moist because the fructose in it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. Honey also helps extend shelf life because it releases moisture slowly and absorbs humidity. Bakers must keep in mind that too much honey in a recipe may cause the product to become too brown. Furthermore, honey cannot be directly substituted for sugar in a recipe. To replace 1,000 g of sugar, use 1,214 g of honey and reduce water by 214 g. Unless the formula includes sour cream or buttermilk, add baking soda to neutralize the acidity. Also, the high heat of baking turns honey brown faster than granulated sugar; thus, oven temperatures should be lowered.

Molasses is a byproduct of the cane and beet sugar refining process. Cane or beet juice is boiled into a syrupy mixture before the sugar crystals are removed, and the color and flavor of the resulting molasses depends on how many times the sugar is extracted.

The first extraction yields light molasses, the sweetest molasses. Dark molasses comes from the second extraction and is moderately sweet. Possessing a stronger flavor than light molasses, dark molasses is a mainstay in gingerbread making. The third extraction produces blackstrap molasses, a very dark and strong-tasting syrup that is hardly sweet and not suitable for baking.

When substituting molasses for sugar, the suggested ratio is 1.3 parts molasses to one part sugar. To accommodate for the extra moisture from the additional molasses, decrease liquid ingredients by about one-third. Finally, because molasses is more acidic than sugar, it may require neutralizing through the addition of baking soda. A good ratio to follow is one part baking soda to 100 parts molasses.


Maple syrup is the next most common liquid sweetener. Real maple syrup comes from certain parts of northeastern North America and is obtained by tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling. The heat concentrates the watery sap and caramelizes the natural sugars.

The US Department of Agriculture assigns voluntary grades to maple syrup. Grade A Light Amber is very light in color and has a faint, delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. Grade A Medium Amber is darker and has an easily discernable maple flavor. As its name implies, Grade A Dark Amber is very dark and has a strong maple flavor. Of all the Grade A varieties, Dark Amber is most often used in baked foods. Grade B, sometimes called cooking syrup, is extremely dark in color and has a strong maple taste with hints of caramel. Because of its strong flavor, this variety is predominantly used in baked foods.

In general, when substituting maple syrup for granular sugar in baked foods, for every one part sugar use 1.5 parts maple syrup. Reduce other liquids in the formula by about one-half. The addition of baking soda is also often necessary to neutralize the system. Finally, oven temperatures should be decreased by about 25 F°.

Golden syrup, which is especially popular in England, is made from evaporated cane juice. As its name implies, golden syrup has high clarity with a golden hue. It has the smooth consistency of corn syrup and a unique rich, toasty, butterscotch flavor. It readily substitutes for corn syrup in most baking applications, adding more character to products such as pecan pie and nut bars.

Sorghum syrup is a natural sweetener made by processing juice squeezed from the stalks of sweet sorghum. Sweet sorghum is grown for syrup or forage, as compared to grain sorghums, which are grown for grain.
Specialized milling equipment is necessary to extract the juice from sweet sorghum, and evaporative pans with heating units steam off excess water, leaving syrup. It requires about 8 gal of juice to make 1 gal of syrup. Sorghum syrup is used the same way as molasses. Sorghum molasses, a liquid sweetener, is a blend of sorghum syrup and sugarcane molasses.

Grain sorghum is an underutilized human food crop. Recently, grain sorghum has been extracted and enzymatically converted to a nutritious, all-natural sweetener. This grainbased sorghum syrup is high in protein and amino acids and can substitute for malted barley extract, which is a sweetener or browning agent ingredient in many food products, including baked foods.

Interestingly, this sorghum syrup is gluten-free and offers a solution to the challenge of browning cereals, crackers, snack foods, particulates, baked foods and other grain-based foods formulated to be gluten-free. It has the same reducing sugars and amino acids as malt extract that promote browning and flavor development. Sorghum syrup possesses other characteristics similar to malt extract including moderate- to longlasting sweetness, humectancy and medium viscosity. Use as a 1:1 malt extract substitute in existing formulations or 1 to 3% in new formulas.


Malt extract, sometimes called malt syrup, is the result of mashing barley, converting the starches to sugars and rendering the proteins soluble by enzymes. Upon separation from the insoluble malt husks, the extract is concentrated into a thick syrup with a solids content of 78 to 82%. The color of malt extract ranges from a light amber to a deep brown and is controlled by the kilning or roasting temperature applied to the malt before it enters the mashing stage.

Because processing preserves most of the natural characteristics of the whole barley grain, malt extracts are nutritious and healthy sweeteners. In baked foods, malt extracts bind ingredients, add bulk, act as a natural humectant and add malty flavor and color ranging from mild malty to caramel. Liquid forms are about 60% as sweet as sugar. For dry blending, malt extracts can be dried into a powdered ingredient. Such powdered malts are about 65% as sweet as sugar.

ALthough its main use is in beer brewing, malt extracts and malt syrups in bakery formulations create a signature flavor and color profile. They work especially well in artisan breads as a source of food for yeast.

Brown rice syrup has applications in baked foods and is becoming increasing popular in the natural-foods market. When fermented, the starch in brown rice converts to maltose, a disaccharide consisting of two units of glucose. It is about half as sweet as table sugar, so bakers need to either use more or combine it with other sweeteners.
Brown rice syrup has the consistency of honey and readily substitutes for honey in most recipes. The unique caramel-like flavor of brown rice syrup can enhance a baked product’s taste. Baked foods made with rice syrup tend to be hard or very crisp; thus, the most common applications are granola bars and cookies. In general, substitute 1.3 parts brown rice syrup for one part granulated sugar. The formula’s liquid ingredients need to be replaced by 25% of the volume of brown rice syrup added. Similar to when other syrups are substituted for sugar in baked foods formulations, baking soda must be added.

The newest arrival to the liquid sweetener category comes from the sap produced in the heart of the blue agave cactus. Different genuses of the agave plant enable the manufacture of an array of syrups with different flavor profiles, much like honey.

The plant is crushed and put through a process that extracts the syrup in its raw form. It is then filtered and heated to a level that breaks down the raw sugar into fructose. At this stage, the syrup is either further refined to produce a pale, amber color or bottled as is, in its natural dark chestnut color.

Containing about 25% water, agave nectar appears as a golden syrup and is composed of 90% fructose and 10% glucose, making it about 1.5 times sweeter than sucrose. Only recently has it come in use as a sweetener, with its popularity increasingly rapidly because of its lowglycemic quality. In most baked foods formulations, use about 25% less agave nectar when substituting it for sugar.

For baking, agave nectar’s moistureretention properties are comparable to those of honey. Bakers also may notice a smoother texture in their foods and better definition of other natural flavors because agave nectar enhances flavors.

Baking with agave nectar is relatively new, so expect some trial and error. You will need to reduce the amount of other liquids to compensate for the extra moisture of the agave, as well as reduce oven temperatures by 10 to 20 F°, because the fructose in the syrup burns quicker than sugar.

Juice concentrates also often directly replace sugar in baked foods. These syrups are made by heating fruit juices to remove water, treating them with enzymes and filtering to strip all characteristic color and natural flavor from the original juice. Because of their initial bland color and flavor, grapes and pears are the primary sources of the juice concentrates used as sugar replacers.

Liquid sweeteners provide baked foods with much more than a sweet flavor profile. These ingredients enable bakers to create a point of differentiation from the competition.