What to Use If You Don’t Have Simple Syrup

 Do you want to make a classic cocktail recipe that calls for simple syrup, but you just realized you don’t have any? Fear not. These simple syrup substitutes will make a drink that tastes just as good.

What is Simple Syrup?

A key ingredient in many cocktails, simple syrup is a mix of sugar and water creating a thin, sticky syrup. Normally combined in a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar, it is an important component of many classics like the mojito, Old Fashioned and Long Island Iced Tea. If you’re a bartender or amateur cocktail enthusiast it’s always best to have some handy in a squeeze bottle, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

So what can you do if you don’t have any simple syrup, or if you simply want to try out a different source of sweetness in your cocktails?

Simple syrup in a glass jar, on a table next to a cocktail shaker and jigger

Simple Syrup Substitutes

Almost anything that is primarily made of sugar can be used as a substitute for simple syrup. Here are some of my favorites:


Honey is “nature’s sweetener” - used as an ingredient and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It also makes a pretty tasty cocktail sweetener.

In fact I actually prefer honey over simple syrup in some recipes due to its rich floral undertones.

As it’s a lot thicker than simple syrup, it’s best if you thin it out with warm water to create a smooth honey syrup.

A jar of honey being used as a cocktail substitute for simple syrup. There is a honeycomb on the table next to it.


This natural nectar has a lower glycemic index, making it a potentially healthier choice than simple syrup.

Agave is a natural companion to tequila and mezcal but it works surprisingly well in other drinks too. As it’s sweeter than simple syrup you should adjust the ratios a little. If the recipe calls for 1/2 oz simple syrup, start with 1/3 oz of agave. You can adjust upwards from there according to your taste.

Maple Syrup

 This one’s for the Canadians. Maple syrup is slightly thicker than simple syrup and has a more caramel taste. It works perfectly for adding sweetness to your drinks, especially if you’re a fan of the distinctive maple taste.


Already a staple in many rum-based Caribbean cocktails, molasses can be used in pretty much any drink as a substitute for simple syrup.  Be warned though - it does have a slightly more bitter, earthy flavor than the other sweeteners on this list, so it might not be to everyone’s liking. Molasses is sweet but it has more of a treacle taste. It’s very thick, too, so you’ll need to combine it with some warm water to thin it out. I find a ratio of 1:1 molasses to water works best.

Molasses on a teaspoon, dripping into a small bowl

White Sugar

You can always just simply add sugar - 1 teaspoon for each quarter ounce of simple syrup in the original recipe. I’d recommend using a superfine sugar so it dissolves better in your drink but you can use regular granulated sugar if you stir or shake well.

Fruit Juice

If your recipe is already full of natural sugars from fruit juice, you can simply up the amount of juice to make up for the lack of simple syrup. In a Planter’s Punch just increase the amount of fresh orange and pineapple juice.

The same goes for sodas. A Long Island Iced Tea with a little more cola and without the simple syrup will barely taste different from the original recipe.

Make Your Own Simple Syrup

What can you do if you don’t have any of the ingredients listed above? Or maybe you just want that classic simple syrup taste with no room to compromise. Make your own! It’s really simple (the clue is in the name). You just need two ingredients: sugar and water.

Rather than buying it at the store, simply boil 1 cup of water with 1 cup of white sugar over medium heat until the sugar fully dissolves. Leave it to cool off and you’re ready to go. Yes, it really is that easy! Keep it in a bottle or jar in the fridge and it’ll last around one month.

Parting Words

As you can see, if you don’t have simple syrup it isn’t the end of the world and there are many different substitutes you can try instead. Good mixologists are always adaptive and can switch things up on the fly. In fact many classic cocktails were invented when a bartender ran out of a particular ingredient and substituted for something else. So try out these simple syrup alternatives and see which work best for your cocktail creations.

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