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Heavy or light syrup -- what's the difference?

Pears in light syrup
Alicia Bayer

We've been doing a lot of canning lately, and my wife told me she was making a light syrup for the pears. This caught my attention, because I had no idea what light syrup was -- or heavy syrup, for that matter. I knew peaches were frequently canned in heavy syrup, but I had never given it much thought.

She whipped out her Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, and Dehydration (now sadly out of print) and showed me exactly what it meant. It's a matter of sweetness.

The book lists 4 syrups for canning: extra-light, light, medium, and heavy. The syrup itself is just a mixture of water and sugar, and the ratio determines the "weight" of the syrup. Extra-light syrup is about 20% sugar, while heavy syrup is 50% sugar. Here's the ratios from the guide:


  • Extra-light - 20% sugar. 1 1/4 cups sugar, 5 1/2 cups water. Yield is 6 cups of syrup.
  • Light - 30% sugar. 2 1/4 cups sugar, 5 1/3 cups water. Yield is 6 1/2 cups of syrup.
  • Medium - 40% sugar. 3 1/4 cups sugar, 5 cups of water. Yield is 7 cups of syrup.
  • Heavy - 50% sugar. 4 1/2 cups sugar, 4 1/4 cups of water. Yield is 7 cups of syrup.

Normally you would just mix the water and sugar, heat it until the sugar dissolves, add the fruit, and heat the whole mixture again before canning, but we did it differently. For the light syrup my wife put the pear halves, 2 1/4 cups of sugar, and 5 1/4 cups of water in the kettle together and heated it all at once. When it was hot enough, my able assistant Jack ladled it into jars for canning. One batch of syrup was perfect for one gallon of pear halves.

And now you (and I) know the difference! The book also lists some substitutes.

  • Medium syrup with corn syrup - combine 1 1/2 C sugar, 1 C corn syrup, and 5 cups of water for 6 cups of syrup.
  • Medium syrup with honey - combine 1 C sugar, 1 C honey, and 4 C water for 5 cups of syrup.

While it is safe to can fruit without added sugar, the quality of the product may be compromised. Sugar helps fruits keep their bright color and firm texture. It is not needed to prevent spoilage.

And of course, it also makes them taste really good!

Want to learn more about Cooking with Kids? Be sure to subscribe to my column to be notified when I publish a new article. And don't forget to check out my Urban Foraging column!

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