Simple syrup is such a great thing to have in your home that can be used to make a ton of beverages, preserves like jams and jellies, candies, and sweet treats and it is even often used in baking.
If you find yourself constantly having to make a new batch, you can always make larger batches in advance. It will save you a lot of time and you can just grab what you need when you need it – no matter how pressed for time, you are.
But how long does simple syrup last? An average (medium consistency) simple syrup can easily last 1-3 months in the refrigerator, though the amount of sugar in the syrup will affect the shelf-life. Other factors such as how the syrup was made will also affect the shelf-life.
In this article, we will have a look at what simple syrup is and all of the factors that will affect its shelf-life. We will also look at different ways to store your syrup to ensure it lasts as long as possible.
What is Simple Syrup?
Simple syrup is a sugary syrup that can be used in many dessert or beverage recipes. It is a very sweet syrup and its consistency can very easily be adjusted for different uses.
Traditionally a simple syrup is made using granulated white sugar and water. The granulated white sugar and water are combined in a pot. Then they are melted over medium heat until all the sugar granules have dissolved.
Once you have mastered a traditional simple syrup, you can experiment with using different types of sweeteners such as brown sugar, honey, xylitol, and many more.
Keep in mind that whichever you use will affect recipes in different ways. Their chemical composition differs from the traditional sugar recipe.
Simple syrups are a base ingredient for many dessert and patisserie recipes and dishes. For example, it can be used to create hard candies, caramels, sorbets, and even meringues. You also use simple syrups to make granolas, snack bars, and thousands of beverages.
It is definitely a must-know recipe and is a very useful product to have in your home if you frequently make these goods. Or if you want to try something new.
Considering how easy it is to make, there’s no reason not to make it in advance. This is especially convenient because you usually have to cool it before incorporating it into your recipe.
But, is there a set timeframe for how long simple syrup can last? There’s no easy answer to this, as there are tons of factors to take into consideration that will affect this.
Types of Simple Syrup
There are three main types of simple syrups. These are classified according to their consistency, not by its flavor or how it is used. The consistency is determined by the ratio of sugar to water you use:
- A thin simple syrup consists of 2 parts water and 1 part granulated white sugar.
- A medium (basic) simple syrup consists of 1 part water and 1 part granulated white sugar (equal parts).
- Lastly, a thick simple syrup consists of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water.
The type of syrup you make will determine how it is best used.
For example, if you are making cocktails, you will most likely use a thin simple syrup to incorporate all the other ingredients and create a balanced flavor.
When using a medium, or a standard, simple syrup, it is usually to flavor cakes, in meringues and to create certain candies. Thick simple syrups are used to make caramels or other sugar crafts like brittle or spun sugar decorations.
You do also get flavored simple syrups that are infused with other ingredients to add another layer of flavor to the item you are making. These flavors can be incorporated via fresh ingredients, like fruits and herbs, spices or extracts and powders.
Factors Affecting the Shelf-Life of Simple Syrup
Like we have mentioned, there isn’t a set time frame as to how long simple syrup will last. The shelf-life varies by how you make it.
There are tons of factors that will affect the shelf-life and ultimately, it will depend on your skill and ability to follow the rules of making simple syrup. As simple as it is to make, it is also easy to get wrong.
A perfect simple syrup should be completely clear (translucent) and have no crystals at all. Before even looking at how long a perfectly made syrup will last, however, let’s look at all the factors that will immediately reduce the shelf-life.
Melting sugar and water together cannot be that difficult, right? Wrong! Have you ever heard of a thing called crystallization? It is every pastry chef’s worst nightmare and you can kiss your syrup goodbye when it happens.
A simple syrup crystallizes when sugar molecules stick together and become insoluble in water. This can happen if your solution is saturated (the sugar can’t dissolve any more), or if the mixture was agitated too much when boiling (especially with metal spoons).
There are actually tons of factors that will affect when and if your simple syrup crystallized.
These include the duration of cooking, speed of cooling, the ratio of sugar and water, storage method and temperatures, cross-contamination of other objects, and like we mentioned, the amount of agitation the syrup and therefore sugar molecules undergo.
The Ratio of Sugar to Water
Many of you might already know that sugar is a preserving ingredient. Think of any jam you have ever bought. It usually grows mold before having a rancid taste – this is because of its high sugar content.
The more sugar an item contains, the longer it will last (depending on the item of course). Thus, a thin simple syrup will automatically have a shorter shelf-life than a thick simple syrup.
As soon as there are fresh ingredients involved, the shelf-life of a product shortens. Fresh ingredients, like fruits and herbs, have a shorter shelf-life than processed ingredients (i.e. sugar).
Even though a simple syrup acts as a preservative, the ingredients will still naturally decompose, only slightly delayed by the sugar.
Other flavoring ingredients, like dried spices, can also result in the syrup to go off. These ingredients might carry bacteria that could result in your syrup going cloudy.
Store-Bought Simple Syrups
You can get pre-made simple syrups that can be bought at your local baking supply store. These usually contain other stabilizing ingredients which helps it last much longer. We will have a look at ways to make your home-made simple syrup more stable.
Hot Method or Cold Method
Simple syrups can be made at home by either boiling the syrup (which creates a much more stable syrup) or by simply stirring the cold ingredients together until they dissolve.
Each method has its own time and place to be used, but we would always recommend boiling the mixture together. This allows all the sugar granules to dissolve evenly and completely as opposed to the cold method.
How To Store Simple Syrup
Any type of simple syrup should be stored in a sterile container. The best containers to use, as they are the easiest to sterilize, are glass ones such as a mason jar.
You can of course use plastic squeeze bottles (depending on what you want to use the syrup for and its consistency), but just make sure they are clean of any odors or fats.
Any foreign particles that come into contact with the syrup could potentially cause crystals to form or bacteria from growing.
You can store these containers at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Make sure you store it away from any strong odors as it will absorb them.
Does Simple Syrup Need To Be Refrigerated?
We highly recommend, even insist, that you store your simple syrup in the refrigerator. Fridges are made to slow down the aging of food and to extend their shelf-life by preventing the growth of bacteria. The refrigerator will also help your simple syrup stabilize.
Your shelf-life will drastically be reduced if you store the syrup at room temperature and the risk of growing mold is substantially higher.
How Long Can a Simple Syrup Last?
Remember the factors we mentioned that will affect the shelf-life of your simple syrup.
Keeping those in mind, if you have made the perfect simple syrup and store it in a clean, sterile container in the refrigerator, your medium (or basic) simple syrup can last for up to 3 months.
The less sugar the syrup contains, the shorter that period will be. The more sugar the syrup contains, the longer that time will be. Flavored syrups that are stored in the refrigerator need to be used within a week to prevent the batch from becoming unusable.
Any simple syrup that is stored at room temperature needs to be used as soon as possible to prevent it from crystallizing. A batch can crystalize within a few hours without you noticing until you need it.
Any syrup that forms mold on the surface should be immediately discarded and the container properly cleaned and sterilized. Mold usually grows at humid temperatures (often when storing the syrup at room temperature) or when the container wasn’t properly cleaned.
Store-bought simple syrups have usually been stabilized using other ingredients, thus will have a much longer, more stable shelf-life. Look for the use-by date on the packaging and constantly monitor the syrup for any crystals or mold.
How To Stabilize Your Simple Syrup For Longer Storage
There are a couple of things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of crystallization during storage.
There are many methods to stabilize your syrup, thereby extending the shelf-life of the syrup. Some of these methods will affect the flavor of the simple syrup, so look at how the syrup will be used to make a decision on which method will work best for you.
You can add a tiny amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice or a pinch of cream of tartar. Make sure to research the exact quantities if you are making larger batches.
Corn syrup is another very popular ingredient used to prevent sugar crystals from forming and is often used in commercially made syrups and syrup-based products.
These ingredients will delay the formation of crystals when storing the syrup at room temperature, however, as we mentioned, they will change the flavor of the syrup and ultimately, your recipe.
You can also opt for a non-flavor altering method. Simmer your sugar syrup mixture for 10 minutes as opposed to simply bringing it to a boil. Simmering the mixture for a long duration of time will allow all the sugar to dissolve and become much more stable.
Can You Fix Your Crystalized Simple Syrup?
If you find that your simple syrup has crystalized, don’t fear, there might still be hope to save it.
The best way to prevent crystals from forming is to ensure that all the sugar granules have been fully dissolved and stabilized. If your mixture happens to crystalize, you can try to reheat it.
As before, it is extremely important to make sure all those crystals are fully dissolved before using the batch again. Reheat the syrup over a low-medium heat to ensure you do not agitate the mixture further.
This also means that under no circumstance should you stir the mixture to try and get rid of the grains. Also, do not heat the syrup in the microwave as it might not evenly heat the syrup, causing further agitation of existing crystals.
Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t much that can be done to save your mixture and it might not even be worth the time and effort to save it.
Can You Freeze Simple Syrup?
Simple syrup can be placed in the freezer to extend its shelf-life, although you might have some trouble getting the mixture to freeze. Liquids with high sugar content have a much lower freezing point, making it difficult for regular freezers to get the job done.
However, you will still be able to prolong the shelf-life for up to a year which is great if you need large batches.
How To Freeze Simple Syrup
To freeze simple syrup, the process is just as simple:
- Once you have made your simple syrup, allow it to cool down completely at room temperature.
- Place the cooled syrup into a clean, stain-free, freezer-safe container such as a mason jar with a tight seal. Make sure to leave room at the top of the container to allow the mixture to expand.
- Seal the container with an airtight lid and place in the freezer away from any strong odors.
Cloudy Simple Syrup – What Does It Mean?
Cloudy simple syrup should be immediately discarded as it means something went wrong somewhere in the process. Your simple syrup should be completely clear and free of any color and objects.
Several factors can cause cloudiness in your simple syrup, but it is often very difficult to determine which exactly it is.
Cloudiness could be caused by contamination of the syrup. You could have used chemical-rich, unclean water, or the sugar you used could have contained a chemical that caused the cloudiness.
For example, some castor sugars contain corn starch to prevent the granules from sticking together. This can then cause cloudiness in your syrup.
Another reason could be due to crystallization. These could be thousands of tiny crystals forming as opposed to larger crystal chunks and could make the mixture appear cloudy.
The final reason could be that the simple syrup has started to grow mold. White mold could form on top as well as inside the mixture and give it a murky appearance.