Rice syrup is a very popular ingredient for many Asian dishes, but it’s not exactly a pantry staple in most parts of the West. Fortunately, we’ve lined up some fantastic rice syrup substitutes.
❗ The best rice syrup substitutes in our experience are corn syrup and maple syrup, followed by honey, simple syrup, barley malt syrup, molasses, and date syrup. Your choice of substitute, of course, depends mostly on what you need to use the substitute for. Flavor, texture, and the overall recipe all affect how you’re using your syrup. All our choices, however, have that viscous syrupy consistency, so they can fulfil a similar function in most recipes.
Each of our chosen substitutions has its own properties that make it worth considering. This article will see us walking you through our favorite substitutions, when and how to use them, and our recommendations for each.
What is Rice Syrup?
Rice syrup goes by many names, all depending on where you come from. It is also known as brown rice syrup, brown malt rice syrup, rice malt, or simply rice syrup. These are all the same product, but different brands will vary.
Rice syrup is a sweetener made out of rice starch. To make it, rice starch is cooked with enzymes which break them down, and the liquid is then strained and reduced to create a thick, rich syrup.
Brown rice syrup is usually made from brown rice, while rice syrup that is not specified with a color will typically be made from white rice varieties.
The three main sugars in rice syrup are maltotriose, maltose, and glucose, which means that the syrup behaves like glucose when you eat it.
Unlike rice itself, the highly processed rice syrup form is not very nutritious. It has trace amounts of potassium and calcium, and plenty of sugar.
Because rice syrup is so high in sugars, it’s also very high in calories. You should keep this in mind when using rice syrup as an ingredient in your cooking.
Like pretty much all sweet, sugary products, rice syrup can cause a spike in your blood sugar, and can contribute to health problems like diabetes and obesity.
The Function of Rice Syrup in Food
Rice syrup functions pretty much the same way as other syrups do. The biggest difference is in how it tastes.
Rice syrup usually performs some combination of the below functions.
- First of all, it adds sweetness. Whether your dish’s overall flavor palate is savory or sweet, rice syrup can be used to add sweetness. It’s great for baked goods, candies, marinades, glazes, sauces and much, much more.
- Rice syrup also adds color to food, promoting browning. Brown rice syrup itself is not always very dark, but it will often darken during the cooking process. This is because the plentiful sugars in rice syrup will caramelize when exposed to heat, causing the food to adopt a golden brown color.
- Rice syrup is also sticky enough to be a pretty effective binding agent. When you’re making glazes that need to stick to your food, not running down off the surface, rice syrup can work well. It’s already thick enough not to run too easily.
- Rice syrup can also add flavor. Syrups are generally too sweet to offer any distinguishable flavor, but rice syrup has a distinctive taste. Consider that maple syrup, which is also very sweet, has an obvious signature taste.
The Best Rice Syrup Substitutes By Use
When you need a rice syrup substitute, your best bet is to look at functionality. Do you need syrup to instantly add color? Choose a darker one. Do you only need binding or sweetness? Any sugary syrup will do if need be.
The Best Overall Substitute: Corn Syrup
Our favorite overall substitute for rice syrup is corn syrup. It’s similar in sweetness to rice syrup and has a remarkably similar consistency.
Corn syrup is much lighter in color than rice syrup, but still fulfils all of rice syrup’s other culinary functions. It is useful in binding food together, adding sweetness, flavor and it will brown very nicely.
Corn syrup also shares a slightly grainy flavor profile with rice syrup. It’s very accessible and affordable, especially in the USA, where rice syrup can be hard to come by.
Corn syrup works as an equal 1:1 substitution for rice syrup. This makes the substitution easier, as you don’t need to add or remove any other ingredients, or adjust your wet or dry ingredient quantities.
Second Best Substitute: Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a fairly common pantry staple and it’s a very reliable syrup for many recipes. Corn syrup is cheaper, which is the main reason we prefer it as a rice syrup substitute.
However, if you already have some on hand, and you need rice syrup for a recipe you’re cooking tonight, maple syrup will definitely do the job.
Maple syrup, unlike corn syrup, already has a dark color. Its unique flavor can be easily imparted to the food it’s cooked with, but because it has a distinctive, unique flavor, it will change the profile of your recipe.
Maple syrup is typically both sweeter and thinner than rice syrup. You only need about ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of rice syrup when using this substitution, especially if you’re just using it for sweetness.
For a recipe that needs rice syrup for moisture, maple syrup isn’t great.
❗ For recipes that don’t need a specific consistency (like a marinade or sauce) then it’s an excellent substitution.
If you’re baking, you might be able to simply remove ¼ cup of flour from the dry ingredients and use the same amount of maple syrup as you would rice syrup for balance in the final texture of your product. This method’s effectiveness will vary from one recipe to the next.
Honey makes a great rice syrup substitute for browning, sweetness, and consistency.
Its naturally darker color and similar consistency means that the moisture and final texture of your product won’t be affected too much, as opposed to runny, thin maple syrup. Honey will not add its own flavor to food, however.
You can substitute ¾ cup of honey for 1 cup of rice syrup.
Simple syrup, the combination of sugar and water, is an easy substitute, but it’s really only good for adding sweetness. You can adjust the consistency when making your own so it’s similar to rice syrup, but that’s up to you.
Simple syrup doesn’t brown as well, and won’t work unless you can add it in its boiling hot liquid form.
Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup is great for flavor and color in savory dishes. It’s great for a glaze, too. You can use ¾ cup of barley syrup per 1 cup of rice syrup.
Its thicker consistency may be an issue, and does not have a neutral flavor.
Molasses, too, can be good for depth of flavor in savory dishes. It’s very strongly flavored, almost bitter, and its thickness makes it a good binding agent.
Use ½ cup molasses per 1 cup of rice syrup.
Date syrup is sweet and versatile. It is also sometimes labeled as “Silan” or “Date Nectar”. Date syrup varies quite widely in consistency, so you should be careful which version you want to use. A more syrup-like version can be used in equal parts, while a paste could create interesting texture differences.