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substitute for corn syrup in popcorn balls/homemade candy?

When I was a child one of our elderly neighbors used to give out homemade popcorn balls for Halloween. It was such a great childhood memory I want to make them for my children but I don't want to use corn syrup.

All of the recipes I've come across include corn syrup.

Does anyone have any suggestions or a recipe using a substitute? (maple syrup, honey, agave) or better still a recipe that's already been tested.

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  1. Maybe try posting on the home cooking board-you might get a wider response....

    1. It's the sort of thing corn syrup's made for. Other things like honey or maple syrup will go rock-like. Why worry if it's a one-shot production?

      1. brown rice syrup is, IMO, the best substitute for corn syrup in terms of how it behaves. however, it's more viscous than corn syrup, so to thin it out you can combine it with maple or a simple sugar syrup.

        1. Lyle's Golden Syrup will work just fine (and taste better); I always sub it for light corn syrup.

          3 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            Corn syrup is glucose. Glucose can be made from a variety of starches, and in Europe is likely to be made from wheat starch or potato starch.

            Golden Syrup is invert sugar - a sucrose (sugar) syrup that is partially broken down into fructose and glucose - so it's a mix of the 3 sugars. Like straight glucose it does not crystallize as straight sugar syrup does. That's why it works in candies like this.

            Golden Syrup is relatively expensive ($6 for a lb can). You can approximate it by boiling a sugar syrup with an acid like cream of tartar. Though my one attempt did crystallize after a while.

            You could check the websites for companies that make these alternative syrups for recipes - e.g. Lyles for Golden Syrup (except it is British), Lundberg Farms for brown rice syrup, etc.

            1. re: pikawicca

              +1 That Golden Syrup is a lot tastier than plain corn syrup. Golden syrup has caramel undertones.

              1. re: dave_c

                Caramel undertones sold me corn syrup's lack of flavor is something I hated back when I was able to eat it. I'm going to try and find golden syrup. Sounds like it should work very well.

            2. Going to be tough as that is precisely the type of thing corn syrup is perfect for.

              What's wrong with corn syrup thoguh? I could understand not wanting to use high fructose corn syrup, but not wanting to use regular corn syrup seems odd.

              8 Replies
              1. re: twyst

                This thread caught my eye because I've been wondering the same thing. How did people make some of these treats before corn syrup came along? I've just had to avoid recipes using corn syrup since I've never found a decent alternative. Yet.

                Some, like me, are allergic to corn. It's not so odd. And before some foodiescientist pops up and says there are no allergens left in something so processed, I use my eczema as my guide
                to what has allergens left in it.

                1. re: twyst

                  Light corn syrup contains HFCS (at least it does in the U.S.), although I've recently spotted organic LCS which wouldn't.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Karo light corn syrup no longer has high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it. They removed it awhile ago due to customer preferences.

                    Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are not the same thing, though it's all sugar.

                    1. re: Merryworld

                      My bottle of Karo LCS, purchased last spring, lists HFCS as an ingredient.

                        1. re: twyst

                          Play it safe and read the label before you buy.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            Given the break down of sugars in corn syrup that Drongo lists, Karo was probably trying to make their syrup more appealing to customers by making it sweeter. While they are both simple sugars, fructose tastes much sweeter than glucose. In effect they were moving it slightly in the direction of pancake syrup. But now that HFCS is the boogieman, they have more to gain by omitting it (and proclaiming so on the label).

                      1. re: Merryworld

                        Last time I bought corn syrup (within the last year), I compared labels between the store brand and the Karo. The store brand had HFCS; the Karo didn't. I spent the extra money on the Karo.

                  2. I have seen agave nectar used for popcorn balls. Google for a few different recipes. I have also seen it used to sweeten chocolate candies, but not the "sugar" candies. Toffee uses sugar. You can make some candies (e.g. taffy) without corn syrup. Google for
                    taffy recipe -"corn syrup"
                    or whatever.

                    1. Here's my advice. Unless you are allergic to corn, use the corn syrup (It isn't HFCS) and move on. Eating corn syrup in popcorn balls once a year is not going to hurt you. If you have ever eaten pecan pie, you've eaten corn syrup. In the olden days, cheap pancake syrup was flavored corn syrup. Now I'm not advocating adding corn syrup to your diet. But this once it isn't going to hurt you.

                      1. Toffy Rice Bars from Lyles using golden syrup, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and rice krispies


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: paulj

                          That looks good! I'll have to try it. I used to make a caramel slice using golden syrup and condensed milk for the filling. It makes a wonderful gooey-sweet caramel when you boil it up.

                        2. Based on my understanding from my candy making grandmother, the main purpose of corn syrup in candymaking recipes (such as popcorn balls) is to provide an invert sugar which makes things less likely to crystallize if you don't do a perfect job of cooking the syrup. My great grandmother's candymaking cookbook that I have a photocopy of calls for glucose that my grandma regularly subs corn syrup for with no ill side effects. Try tracking down a good form of glucose. You basically just want an invert sugar.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: LaureltQ

                            Drug stores sell a glucose in small quantities for medical purposes (e.g. a quick sugar source for diabetics), and bakery supply stores sell large quantities for cake and candy making. dextrose is another name for this.

                            I was thinking that Karo is pure glucose (except for salt and vanilla flavoring). But according a Karo FAQ it isn't. It is corn syrup, but that is a "solution of dextrose and other sugars derived from corn starch"
                            "Corn syrup contains between 15% to 20% dextrose (glucose) and a mixture of various other types of sugar."

                            Technically invert sugar is different - it is a mix of glucose and fructose, produced by splitting sucrose. Since corn syrup is not pure glucose, it may closer in composition to invert sugar than I thought.

                            1. re: paulj

                              According to McGee "the most common consumer grade of corn syrup is 20% water, 14% glucose, 11% maltose, and 55% longer glucose chains" and invert sugar is 75% glucose and fructose (37.5% of each) and 25% sucrose.

                              1. re: drongo

                                Maltose is two glucose molecules bound together. It's a key component in malt flavoring. So this corn syrup is all glucose, but with a lot of it bound into longer chains. So saying it is straight glucose is not quite right, but not totally off the mark either. There is little if any fructose in it.

                          2. I'm thinking skip the HFCS altogether and do a caramel sugar binding for the popcorn balls. Fond memories of the first day I did this in jr. high and we all had major burns from the caramel. But it's good and easy.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: berkleybabe

                              Even if you wanted to use HFCS, it would be hard to find a form that would work in this application. About the closest would be pancake syrup.

                              1. re: berkleybabe

                                "I'm thinking skip the HFCS altogether"

                                Corn syrup is not the same thing as HFCS, and Karo corn syrup contains no HFCS. Regular corn syrup is the new MSG, people are afraid of it for no logical reason.

                                1. re: twyst

                                  Well, Karo did contain HFCS for a while until pretty recently, and it's worth pointing out that most other brands still do. So, read labels obviously, but all the store brands around me have HFCS in them.

                                  Given people's different allergies, politics, and taste preferences, if someone asks about substituting for corn syrup, it could also be considered illogical to assume they're just too thick for their own good.

                                  1. re: ca262626

                                    Which of those considerations applies to generic corn syrup with some HFCS, but not to Karo without it?

                                    Has anyone done a taste test. I assume the version with add HFCS is a bit sweeter, but not drastically so.

                                    According to a recent ATK show, pecan pie was invented in the 1930s by the wife of a Karo exec, though the tradition of 'transparent' pies is much older. To get some of the flavor of older pies, they used a mix of maple syrup, brown sugar and molasses (plus butter and eggs) for the 'custard' part.

                                2. re: berkleybabe

                                  Corn syrup has been a candy ingredient since the turn of the last century and is indeed a very different thing than HFCS. And it's also been the primary ingredient in Marshmallow Fluff since that product came out 90 years ago. HFCS didn't rear its head as a food ingredient until the late 70's.

                                  1. re: ferret

                                    However sweeteners with a high (30-50%) proportion of fructose (not bound in sucrose) have been part of the human diet for centuries (e.g. honey), and manufactured forms (e.g. invert sugar) have been marketed since the 1880s (Lyles).