Honey is a wonderfully versatile sweetener and suitable to use in all kinds of recipes. From sweet bakes and meat marinades to salad dressing and sandwiches, this viscous syrup has plenty to offer.
If you are out of honey, can’t find any in-store, or need to find a vegan alternative, we’re here to help you choose the best honey substitutes according to the dish you’re making.
Before we get into the options, it’s important to know the difference between various honey types in order to pick the closest alternative.
Basics of Honey
Bees produce pure honey from floral nectar. This golden color syrup is collected from beekeeping hives of domesticated bees or from wild bee colonies. It has a similar sweetness to white sugar, although the flavor and color can vary greatly according to its floral source and how (or if) it has been processed.
Sugars, compounds, or syrups are sometimes added to honey to reduce costs, change the viscosity and taste, and to prevent crystallization.
Labeling laws vary per country but in the United States, a product labeled as ‘honey’ refers to the pure product and does not allow for additions of other sweeteners or water.
The incredible thing about pure honey is that most microorganisms won’t grow in the syrup which means sealed honey will not spoil, even after many years.
Types of Honey
Honey can be produced from a wide range of different flowers and is generally classified by the nectar floral source. It can be made from one specific type or blended after collection. The nectar source plays a significant role in the flavor of the honey and how dark or light the liquid is.
The sweet syrup can be sold in its raw form, pasteurized, strained, filtered, creamed, whipped, as honeycomb or chunk honey.
When choosing the best honey substitute for your dish, consider what role it plays. It could be to sweeten, add a certain flavor, increase moisture content, promote a golden color, or to help bind ingredients.
Best Replacement For Honey
Unless otherwise stated, the honey substitute can be used as a replacement in equal quantities.
Golden syrup is easy to find and a much cheaper alternative, however, it is more processed. Sometimes also called light treacle, the sticky vegan-friendly syrup is made from sugar cane juice. The juice is evaporated to yield a thicker consistency with a golden color and sweet caramel flavor.
Although golden syrup lacks the floral notes of honey, the similar color, consistency, and sweetness make it an ideal substitute for honey in baking cakes, cookies, snack bars, granola mixes, and topping waffles and pancakes.
Related: Golden syrup replacement
Real maple syrup is another option we highly recommend as a substitute. It is made from the sap of maple trees. Using 100% pure maple syrup is best since manufactured syrups may contain extra flavorings or water which may not hold up as well.
Maple syrup is also classified into Grade A and B quality as well as having a variety of intensities ranging from light amber to dark amber.
Maple syrup and honey do not have the same flavor but thicker types of maple have a similar consistency. The flavor change will be noticeable in dressings and marinades, but in baking, desserts, pancakes, waffles, and pies it can be a great replacement regardless of the taste variation.
Brown Rice Syrup
Also known as rice malt syrup, this alternative to honey is made by breaking down rice starches to form simple sugar which is boiled to a nutty syrup. It is vegan and does not have any additional sugar added.
With a similar consistency and color, this replacement can be used in any baking recipe, for sauces, waffles, pies, and sweetening coffee or tea.
Light Corn Syrup
The great thing about corn syrup is that it is very versatile since it has a clear color and a very mild flavor. Although it won’t add color or flavor to your dish, it will bring sweetness without altering the flavor profile of other ingredients.
This means it can be used in almost anything from baking and marinades to sauces, candy, pies, caramel popcorn, peanut brittle, and jam. Keep in mind that dark corn syrup has a deeper flavor and color.
See more: Corn syrup alternative
Molasses is a by-product of sugar refinement. Light molasses is best to use as a substitute, however, if you only have dark molasses on hand, it will also work. Blackstrap molasses however will not make a suitable substitute since it has a bitter taste and very dark color.
With its mild taste and similar (although sometimes slightly thicker) consistency, light molasses is a great alternative in sweet and savory cooking. You can substitute molasses measure for measure.
It is often used in baked beans and is also ideal for sauces, marinades, dressings, wholewheat bread, pumpernickel, rye, and oat bread as well as gingerbread, ginger cookies, desserts, and cakes.
Related: Molasses alternative
This sweet syrup is essentially a lighter type of molasses, derived at a different stage of the sugar-making process. It has a milder taste, amber color, and similar consistency to honey.
Although not a common pantry staple, if you do have it on hand, you can swap it out in equal quantities for almost any recipe including oatmeal, pies, bread pudding, fruitcake, waffles, cakes, and marinades.
Dates are naturally sweet and sticky fruits. Although not suitable in their whole form, when pitted and blended with water you can make your own natural, unprocessed date syrup as a fantastic substitute.
Blend 2 parts dates with 1 part water until you get a smooth consistency. You can customize the thickness with a little less or more water as needed and add a squeeze of lemon juice to cut the sweetness.
Use this in dressings, baking recipes, or to spread on toast.
Agave or maguey syrup is made from the fluid inside an agave plant. If using this as a honey alternative it is important to note that it does brown a little faster when heated. This means that although it has a similar color and consistency, you may want to keep it for recipes that require just a little heat or no heating.
It is also a little sweeter so if you don’t want too much sweetness in your recipe, start with slightly less than what your recipe calls for and add to taste.
You can use agave syrup successfully in dressings, sauces, sweetening drinks, and drizzling over scones, waffles, and crumpets.
Coconut nectar is not a common ingredient, however, if you are looking for a natural syrup and vegan honey replacement, it’s worth getting some. The syrupy nectar is made from coconut blossoms that grow on coconut trees. It has a similar sweetness level with a slightly different flavor and can be used in sweet and savory dishes.
Replace coconut nectar in equal quantities in marinades, dressings, smoothies, toast, oatmeal, and pancakes.
Barley Malt Syrup
This sweetener is made from soaked and sprouted barley. The thick syrup has a very similar color and consistency to molasses and is only around half as sweet as white refined sugar. As a vegan alternative, it’s a great substitute for honey if you don’t want your dish too sweet. This makes it ideal for cooking, sauces, marinades, dressings, and baked goods.
If all you have in the pantry is sugar, you can make your own syrup to use as a sweetener in almost any recipe. Keep in mind that this substitute will not provide a rich flavor or the floral notes of honey.
To make a batch that equals one cup of honey you will need five cups of granulated sugar and one cup of water. We recommend using brown sugar for a slightly richer flavor and color that more closely resembles that of honey.
Place the water and sugar in a pot on the stove and bring it to a gentle simmer. Stir slowly to help the sugar dissolve. Once it has completely dissolved and has an even, smooth consistency, let it cool. Store your ‘homemade honey’ in a sealed jar.
Sugar-Free Honey Alternatives
Available as powder or liquid stevia, this sweetener is made from stevia plant leaves. Since one teaspoon of stevia is equal to the sweetness of an entire cup of sugar, it is not suitable as a replacement in baked recipes.
You would probably only need one or 2 drops which will throw off the ratios and consistency of the batter. Stevia can, however, be used to add sweetness to drinks, smoothies, oatmeal, or dressings.
If you need a diabetic-friendly sugar replacement for baking, stevia is available in a granular form which is specifically made for baking since it contains bulking agents.
This natural sweetener is made from monk fruit extracts and is 150 to 250 times sweeter than table sugar. As with stevia, it won’t be suitable as a substitute in baking where the consistency will be affected but it can be used to sweeten coffee or tea, smoothies, oatmeal, and dressings.
Remember that since it is super sweet, a little goes a long way. Start with just a small amount and add to taste.
If stored correctly the golden liquid should never go bad. Although it may crystallize or darken in color it is still good to use in baking recipes, barbecue sauces, marinades, to sweeten drinks, and more. It is, however, recommended to store it in a glass jar with a lid if you are planning to keep it for a long time. Always use clean utensils when scooping from the jar as contamination from other foods will cause it to spoil.
Honey that has crystallized is still perfectly safe to use. Simply warm it up gently to return it to its liquid state.
Honey should be stored in a cool dry pantry or cupboard in a sealed glass jar. Plastic jars can also be used, however, are best avoided for long-term storage as they could affect the quality. Storing liquid honey in the refrigerator will speed up the crystallization process.
Honey adds a distinct taste to a range of delicious recipes from cookies and cake to sauces and even ice cream. Although it is hard to replicate its unique floral taste, there are plenty of substitutes to choose from that will provide the same sweetness, consistency, and color.
When choosing a substitute, take any flavor differences, color, consistency, and the level of sweetness into consideration to determine whether the substitute will alter the flavor of your dish.
Darker syrups such as dark molasses and barley malt syrup can bring a richer, slightly nutty, or bitter touch. Cane syrup or simple syrup are both light in color and flavor and will only add sweetness to your recipe without affecting the taste of other ingredients.
The wonderful thing is that whether you are vegan or diabetic, cooking sweet or savory, there is a suitable substitute for you.
See more: Does honey expire?
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