Chinese Golden Syrup

Chinese golden syrup is something of an odd duck in the syrup world. It’s an invert caramel syrup that flows at room temperature, even when undiluted with milk or water. That’s a very odd thing, since in order to get sugar syrup to caramelize you have to heat it well past the point at which it will flow once it cools. So how is this accomplished? Simply put, what you see here is a syrup made on top of a syrup, a dark caramel syrup for color and flavor, and a soft-ball stage syrup for flow. I’ll show you how it’s done.

First put half a cup of sugar in a saucepan and add about a quarter cup of water. The amount doesn’t matter much since it will cook out anyway.

Swirl it over high heat.

After a few minutes it will start to turn golden…

…then dark. You want this smoking a bit. Quite brown in the middle.

When you hit your desired darkness (since it’s really up to you), remove the pan from the heat and pour in about a cup of boiling water. Again the precise amount isn’t important here since you’ll cook most of it out later (temperature is as much a measure of a syrup’s water content as it is a gauge of how hot it is). Watch out as it will splatter some. The hot water will at once cool the caramel and keep it from turning instantly into candy.

Scrape up any hardened sugar that’s on the bottom of the pan and return it to the heat.

Add a full cup of sugar…

…then about a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice. A pinch of tartaric acid (cream of tartar) will also work here. This plus the heat will help break the un-caramelized sucrose molecules into pieces. The caramel you already made is acidic, but a little more acid will speed the process along.

Stir all that up and let it cook again for a minute or two…

…until it’s up to the soft ball stage, about 235 degrees Fahrenheit. It will bubble more than this when you’re actually cooking it. Watch your fingers!

While it’s still hot pour it through a sieve to remove any bits of lemon flesh.

Cool and you’re done!

For those of you who are curious, this homemade syrup is the functional equivalent of a refiner’s syrup like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is to say it’s a thick, golden invert syrup. It is not a taste equivalent, however. To get that you’ll need to pay up for the real thing!

For those of you who are wondering why a syrup made of caramel and soft-ball syrup still flows at room temperature, it’s all those broken molecules. Those little single sugars simply tumble over each other more readily than the bigger sucrose molecules from whence they came. Which is cool.

This is a very handy thing to know how to make should you ever need a high-viscosity corn-syrup-like syrup but can’t make it out to the store. All you need is sugar, water and acid. Bingo!

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18 Responses to Chinese Golden Syrup

  1. rainey says:

    Very very clever!

    • joepastry says:

      I found a very similar technique on YouTube and just streamlined it a bit. Works great! ;)

      - Joe

  2. Eva says:

    Very Cool! I never would have thought you could make a syrup on top of a syrup.
    Eva

    • joepastry says:

      I was wondering if that was possible…then came across someone in Australia doing that very thing on YouTube. It worked out perfectly!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  3. Brian Shaw says:

    Wow… a good thing to learn. So if this isn’t tasting like Lyle’s, what is missing? The thrifty side of me sure would like to be able to make Lyle’s at home.

    Would this work as a substitute for Karo dark, say, in a pecan pie?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Brian! This definitely tastes more lemony than Lyle’s. I expect you could eliminate that by using a pinch of cream of tartar instead of the juice. Otherwise the profile is similar, but Lyle’s tastes rounder, more mellow and molasses-y. It’s a unique taste, but this I think is similar enough.

      Regarding the substitution for Karo, this golden syrup will perform the same, but taste sweeter. You’ll want to cut it back by about 15% and make up the difference with more nuts or egg.

      - Joe

  4. Silviu says:

    I once tried to make some invert sugar syrup since we don’t readily find any of the glucose or glucose/fructose syrups in my country. Unless you buy it by the 10 gallon bucket which I don’t intend to be doing anytime soon. The acid I used was citric acid (which we find in a crystalline form sold as “lemon salt”). Maybe I put in too much but the final thing tasted awful. Awful enough to scare me away from syrup making for a while. Should have stuck with the good ol’ lemon juice. Nothing beats the nature, but I still wonder if the syrup will still taste lemony.

  5. Frankly says:

    That is so cool! I am trying to think of clever places to use this neat new trick. Your a gem, thanks for sharing

  6. J says:

    Why is the starting caramel acidic?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi J!

      That’s another mystery of Maillard reactions. The darker a caramel gets, the more acidic it becomes. Obviously a lot of the xyz molecules that browning reaction create are acidic. Just what they are no one knows!

      Thanks for a great question!

      - Joe

  7. Sally says:

    A family connection mistakenly substituted pure maple syrup for Karo–the best mistake ever! And the best pecan pie ever.

  8. Thio says:

    Hi Joe,

    Instead of lemon juice, can I add vinegar instead or any other additive that does not have flavour?

  9. Lucian says:

    The way my family has been doing it for many years (we make mooncakes annually) is put the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a wok, slap on the cover and bring to the boil. When there is roaring steam coming out of the vessel, we turn down the heat and uncover it. It is then simmered until it reaches a honey-like consistency. It always produced that rich dark colour, and there has never been any sugar crystals on the sides of the wok, which seems to be common when making any kind of syrup.

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