Golden syrup is an amber colored sweetener made by evaporating sugar cane juice until thick. The best golden syrup is made from continually refining sugar molecules, which consist of a blend of sucrose, glucose and fructose, until the right color and texture is reached. Golden syrup originated in Britain, but the light treacle with a distinctive color, aroma and taste is now available in many countries around the world.
There are many different brands of golden syrup but perhaps the best known is Lyle's Golden Syrup™. Golden syrup originated over 100 years ago when Abram Lyle, who operated a sugar refinery in England, noticed a syrup was produced during the sugar cane refining process. He refined the syrup further and began selling it to local customers and employees as a sweet spread for bread as well as a cooking ingredient. Within a year, "Lyle’s Golden Syrup" was a hit and began to be sold all over London.
The syrup is a partially inverted sugar syrup. Inverted sugar is made from a basic sugar syrup, or a sucrose water solution, to which acid is added and then heated. The sucrose molecule splits in half to form glucose and fructose, which is then mixed back into the sucrose syrup to form golden syrup. This process occurs naturally with honey, molasses and corn syrup and is ideal for making sweets and baked goods as it does not crystallize and retains moisture.
Sweeter than normal table sugar, it can be substituted by or for honey, corn syrup or maple syrup, but the taste will not quite be the same, as golden syrup has a mellower flavor with a distinctive aroma. Home-made syrup can be made by caramelizing sugar and water with either vinegar, lemon, citric acid or cream of tartar. Once it has been poured into sterilized jars, the syrup will thicken and will be ready to eat after two or three days.
The ability to retain moisture is the very property that makes golden syrup a popular ingredient in baked goods, as it extends their shelf life. A classic British staple, golden syrup is the main ingredient in British cookies like gingerbread and flapjacks. Flapjacks are made with rolled oats, salted butter, golden syrup and brown sugar, and adding golden syrup to food inhibits the possibility of microbial contamination as it has very low water activity. It is also added to ice creams and sorbets as it does not crystallize and so these products are softer and maintain an even consistency.