How to Preserve Fruits in Sugar Syrup?

Preserving foods in syrup remains as one of the oldest and most effective preservation methods for fruits. Adding syrup to fruits help retain the food’s flavor, color, and shape. It doesn’t require anything besides the fruits, water, sugar, some jars, and a bit of time. In this article, we will go through different types of sugar syrups, how to use sugar syrup to preserve different types of fruits, and for how long can fruits be preserved this way.

Types of Sweet Syrup

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, there are 5 types of sweet syrups for preserving fruits. These are:

  • Very Light Syrup contains 10% sugar. Light syrup approximates the natural levels in most fruits. It also contains the fewest calories.
  • Light Syrup contains 20% sugar. Perfect for preserving sweet fruit.
  • Medium Syrup contains 30% sugar. This is a great sweet syrup for preserving ripe apples, cherries, berries, and grapes.
  • Heavy Syrup is 40% sugar. It’s a great syrup to use for preserving tart fruits including sour cherries, apricots, gooseberries, peaches, pears, and plums.
  • Very Heavy Syrup is 50% sugar. It’s best for preserving sour fruits of all kinds. It also contains the most calories.

As you might have already noticed, the sweeter the fruit, the lighter the syrup should be used for preservation. This works the other way around too: the more tart the fruit, the sweeter the syrup you should use. Also, the heavier the syrup, the more calories it contains. That means you should always aim to use light syrup when preserving fruits.

How to Calculate How Much Water and Sugar You Need

Calculating the measurements to prepare different kinds of syrup is a bit tricky. Generally speaking, the sugar and water add up to 100%. So to make a very light syrup, add 9 cups of water for every cup of sugar. To make a light syrup, it’s 8 cups of water for 2 cups of sugar, and so on. It’s easy if you need 10 cups of syrup. If you need 6 cups of syrup, you need to do a bit of math yourself, which involves converting cups into tablespoons to get the measurements right.

Preserved fruit
(credit: Jason Leung)

How to Preserve Fruits in Sugar Syrup?

  1. Start by preparing the fruits as well as the jars you’ll use to preserve your fruits. Begin by sterilizing the containers first. You need an airtight glass container with a sealed lid. Mason jars are a great option. Wash the jars well with water and dish soap. Rinse thoroughly then bring a pot of water to a boil. Using a metal tong, place the clean jars and lids in a boiling water bath. Sterilize for 10 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Clean, trim or cut the fruits into desired sizes. The cleaner the fruits, the more effective the preserving process will be. Remove decayed or brown spots. Make sure the fruits are at the peak of quality and freshness. Set aside.
  3. Make the sugar syrup. In a pot, combine the water and sugar together then bring to a boil over high heat. Once the sugar has dissolved completely and the syrup has thickened somewhat, it’s ready to use.
  4. There are two options when it comes to packing the fruit. First is to throw the fruits into the sugar syrup as it cooks before packing. This technique is called hot packing. The second option is to pour the hot syrup directly into the container as the syrup is done. That’s cold-packing. If you chose cold packing, pack the prepped fruits into the sterilized jars. Gently pour the hot sugar syrup into the jar but do not fill the container all the way through. Leave about half an inch of space.The fruits must be immersed in syrup completely. Wipe any syrup from the jar rims or add more syrup if needed. Seal the container with the lid and then screw the bands tightly to set the rubber seal in place. Do not over-tighten the lids. Give each glass container a label complete with the processing date. Store in a cool, dark, and dry place for best results.

For additional info on proper food safety and canning processing, please refer to the USDA guide.

What Fruits to Preserve in Syrup?

Sweet, tart and sour fruits are the best fruits to preserve in sugar syrup. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, some of the fruits commonly preserved in syrup are stone fruits: apricots, nectarines, sour cherries, peaches, and plums.

Berries, such as cranberry, gooseberry, tomato, red currant, strawberry, raspberries, blueberries, etc. are often preserved in syrup too. Some sweet fruits, such as figs, sugar apples, sweet apples, persimmon, etc., could be preserved in syrup.

Tart and sour fruits, such as apples, mangoes, guava, grapes, pears, tangerines, grapefruits, and passion fruits are just a few that can be preserved in syrup. However, fruits that are high in fat (coconut, durian, avocados, etc.) and melon-type fruits (watermelons, honeydew melons, bananas, and cantaloupes) shouldn’t be preserved in syrup.

How Long Do Fruits in Syrup Last?

The shelf life of fruits preserved in syrup will depend on many factors. These factors include the thickness of the syrup, the kind of fruits that were preserved, the quality of the fruits, as well as the way the preserved products were processed.

Acidic fruits preserved in syrup have a longer shelf life than sweet fruits. That’s because these fruits could activate chemical reactions such as pectin set. These chemical reactions inhibit microbial growth. Canned fruits, which are usually preserved in either light or heavy syrup, will keep for at least a year in the pantry. But once opened, the shelf life is reduced to a week or so. Sealed, homemade preserved fruits will also last for a year or so when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Can Fruits Preserved in Syrups Go Bad?

Preserved fruits in syrups may go bad if the container has been compromised. Exposure to air could shorten the shelf life of the preserved fruits. If the preserved fruits have developed an off-color or odd aroma, they might have gone bad. If you are seeing signs of mold growth, discard the preserved fruits right away. Low acid preserved fruits are more likely to go bad compared to high acid preserved fruits. If the container of the preserved fruits is leaking or if left unsealed, discard it.