Make your own: simple syrup
Simple syrup is usually associated with mixing cocktails, but there are actually several non-alcoholic uses for it, like sweetening iced tea and iced coffee, or even glazing desserts. I recently started making my own cold-brewed coffee (for the method, see here and here) and tea (see here), and found that trying to stir granulated sugar into cold liquid is a big pain. Plus I had a bunch of vanilla sugar that was getting too hard to use, so I decided to mix up some simple syrup with it.
Simple syrup is probably the easiest thing ever to make. You need water. And sugar. And a pot. And a stove. And a spoon. And something to keep the syrup in. There you go.
My wonderful, amazing-smelling vanilla and bourbon sugar was sitting on my counter, but I often forgot to use it, so the liquid was making the sugar clumpy and hard.
Aren’t the vanilla specks pretty? And this stuff smells SO GOOD. Here’s the problem:
This also smelled amazing, but the hard clumps were difficult to stir into anything that needed sweetening.
Fixing it was as easy as dumping it into a sauce pan, adding some water, boiling it, then simmering it down a little.
I found several instructions for making simply syrup, but this one had the most information about different proportions for different types of syrup.
The main thing to remember is that the weaker your syrup is, the more extra liquid you’re adding to your beverage. If you make the syrup stronger, you’ll need less of it and the less you’ll water down your drink. Ultimately, you just have to play with it until you get a strength you like for whatever your application is.
I made mine pretty strong, but didn’t cook it down very long, so it’s a pretty thin liquid. I poured it into an old jar, and the vanilla specks are lovely:
(Note: I reused this jar because the caramel smell in it wouldn’t interfere with the vanilla-bourbon syrup. I wouldn’t use an old tomato sauce jar or anything like that for this purpose to avoid transferring the flavor. That’s also why I bought new jars specifically for making vanilla extract. If you buy your own canning jars for storage, though, you can reuse the jars if you get new lids. Even if you don’t actually can with them, the lids are the things that pick up the smell and flavors the most; the glass will clean up nicely but it’s hard to get the smell out of the lids.)
You can infuse your simple syrup with just about anything: any herb, spice, fruit, vegetable, random plant part you found on the ground outside, whatever you want. You can even make it with tea instead of water! If you’re into mixed drinks (which I’m not), you can probably think of tons of great flavors for your drinks. Just keep it in a sealed container in the fridge, and it will stay good for a while.
Honestly, though, the best thing about this syrup was how my kitchen smelled when I made it. And this was the best-smelling mess I’d ever made: