A popular liquid sweetener, corn syrup is a key ingredient in many baked goods, candies and other sweet treats. It's also used in some savory items that need a hint of sweetness, such as barbecue sauce and baked beans. One of the most widely sold brands of corn syrup in the United States is Karo, whose product line includes dark and light corn syrups.
When a recipe doesn't specify which type to use, it's handy to know the differences between light and dark corn syrup. Those differences are minimal, and you can typically use dark or light corn syrup interchangeably, but bakers and tasters with a keen palate will notice the subtle variations in flavor and color.
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Dark Versus Light Corn Syrup: Color
On the shelf, the most noticeable difference between light and dark corn syrup is their color. Naturally, light corn syrup is much lighter in color – almost clear – and some brands label their similar products "white corn syrup." In contrast, dark corn syrup is a deep caramel-brown color.
These color variations might be apparent in baked goods made with corn syrup, resulting in golden brown rather than blonde cookies, for example. In already deep-hued foods, like pecan pie, the color difference caused by using dark or light corn syrup for pecan pie is much less noticeable.
Dark Versus Light Corn Syrup: Flavor
Flavor differences between light and dark syrup result from their slightly different ingredients. Karo light corn syrup is flavored with a touch of vanilla and salt, while Karo dark corn syrup is flavored with molasses plus a little salt. Molasses and vanilla have quite distinct flavors, which are infused into dark versus light corn syrup. Most tasters find light corn syrup more delicate in flavor and dark corn syrup more robust.
When a recipe calls for dark or light corn syrup, it's because the recipe creator wants to add a hint of either vanilla or molasses. Substituting dark for light or vice versa therefore alters the flavors in that recipe. Avoid this by sticking to the type of corn syrup a recipe specifies. If you intend to customize the recipe – for example, if you prefer vanilla or molasses – substitute the syrup type of your choice. The Karo company promises it won't affect anything other than flavor.
Ingredients and Nutritional Value
In terms of ingredients, the differences between light and dark corn syrup are small but significant. Karo light corn syrup contains only corn syrup, salt and vanilla extract. Karo dark syrup contains corn syrup, molasses, salt and sodium benzoate (used to protect quality).
There is only one slight difference in the nutritional values listed for Karo dark versus light corn syrup. In a 2-tablespoon serving, both types of syrup provide 120 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrates and zero fat or protein. The small nutritional difference is in sodium content, with dark corn syrup providing a slightly higher 40 milligrams of sodium per serving compared to 30 milligrams per serving for light corn syrup.
Other Karo Corn Syrups
Karo has two more options in its corn syrup product line: Lite syrup and pancake syrup. The company's "Lite" syrup – note the difference in spelling – is a lower-calorie version of its light syrup. Karo states that you can substitute Lite for other corn syrups in most recipes but advises against doing so for cereal bars or candy.
Karo's pancake syrup behaves in a similar way to dark and light corn syrups and contains the same key ingredients. However, it is flavored with artificial maple flavor rather than vanilla or molasses. The company says you can substitute it for light or dark corn syrup in all recipes, with the understanding that it will impart a distinct maple flavor.