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On a hot summer day and with a basketful of lemons I often want a nice cold glass of lemonade. A lot of recipes suggest making lemonade with simple syrup, which requires cooking, whereas other recipes just have stirred-in sugar.

What exactly are the benefits of making lemonade (or limeade) with simple syrup versus just stirring in sugar?

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Simple Syrup is sugar that is has been dissolved in water. Heating speeds the process, and also allows the water to "absorb" more sugar. I don't remember the chemistry of why the sugar doesn't crystallize at room temp, but it doesn't. It is typically made in a 1:1 mixture .. heat a cup of water to boiling, add a cup of sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat, allow to cool.

It is used in cold drinks like lemonade and iced tea because granulated sugar does not dissolve easily in cold liquids. It requires a lot of mixing, and the saturation point is low, so people who like lots of sugar can't get enough to dissolve to get the taste they desire.

Note #1: this is why Southern-style Sweet Tea is sweetened while the tea is still hot.

Note #2: The sweetness of 1 tsp of sugar is not equivalent to the sweetness of 1 tsp of simple syrup. You will have to find your particular taste point.

Note #3: It can be flavored with just about any flavor extract, such as lemon, orange, peppermint, vanilla, almond, and so on. As I understand it, this is typically how flavored iced teas are made.

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Better answer than mine! And just a note that I'm pretty sure that it's the decomposition of sucrose into glucose and fructose in boiling water that allows the sugar-water to be more stable than just dissolving sugar into room-temp water. –  Harlan Jul 17 '10 at 11:15
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Heating allows the sugar-water mixture to become supersaturated. More sugar can be dissolved in the heated water than is ordinarily possible at room temperature. –  Jay R. Jul 17 '10 at 15:35
    
+1 for "this is why Southern-style Sweet Tea is sweetened while the tea is still hot" -- as a Northerner having relocated to the SOuth, I can tell you that "Iced Tea" up North is very different from "Sweet Tea" down here! –  Josh Sep 10 '10 at 23:21
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I can't address "better," but it may be different. When you make simple syrup, you boil the sugar water for some amount of time. The effect of boiling the sugar water is to break down some of the sucrose into its component sugars, glucose and fructose. The result is somewhat sweeter than the same amount of merely-dissolved sucrose.

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I love the chemistry lesson. +1 –  Mike Sherov Jul 16 '10 at 22:59
    
This effect is insignificant for the amount of time it takes to make simple syrup. –  Shalmanese Jul 17 '10 at 8:18
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The syrup makes it much easier to sweeten the lemonade. When on stirs in granulated sugar, one has to mix for a while, which is kind of hard to do with all those ice cubes in the glass. With the syrup, a few strokes of the spoon do the job. In South East Asia you often get a jar with simple syrup to sweeten your ice tea and I always thought it would work great with lemonade.

To make the simple syrup, dissolve a cup of sugar with a cup of water in a pan over medium heat. Once completely dissolved, take it off the burner, let it cool, and place in a pouring jar.

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