What's The Difference Between Heavy And Light Syrup For Canned Fruit?

Considering fruit is nature's candy, it may seem counterintuitive to preserve what is already a sweet piece of fruit in more sugar, but there is a reason for that. Per the National Center for Home Food Preservation, syrup does the job of keeping canned fruit looking the way it did when it was first picked by preserving its color, flavor, and shape. For the most part, home cooks are likely to go with a simple sugar syrup made with water and sugar to preserve their fruits, with set percentages that determine whether a syrup can be considered "very light," "light," "medium," "heavy," or "very heavy." 

The National Center for Home Food Preservation says that along with each designation is a set percentage of sugar vis a-vis water — very light syrup is made with 10% sugar and is seen to be the closest level naturally seen in fruit. On the other end of the scale, the heavy syrup is made with 40% sugar, normally used to preserve sour fruit like tart apples and cherries, as well as peaches, pears, and plums. But sugar and water aren't the only ways to make syrup these days. Per the University of Minnesota Extension, a range of ingredients is now available to a home canner, from commercial fruit juices made with apple, pineapple, or white grape juices, to light corn syrups or even honey.

Commercial canned fruit can use a mix of different sugars for its syrups

The option to can fruit in different liquids is also available to commercial fruit canners, which is how we see fruit today preserved with varying syrups. It should go without saying that fruits canned in different ways will end up with different quantities of sugar. The heavy syrup used to can fruit will generally contain a mix of sugar, water, and corn syrup for added sweetness — and because the volume in these cans is determined by weight, there is less fruit, too. KCRG says a 15 ½ ounce can of fruit in heavy syrup has 10 ounces of fruit and about ⅔ cup of syrup in it. By comparison, a 15-ounce can of fruit in light syrup, made with just water and sugar, will have just over ½ a cup of syrup. 

Fruit cocktail canned in heavy syrup will contain 36.7 grams of sugar after it has been drained, per My Food Diary. By contrast, the Canned Food Alliance says peaches canned in light syrup contain 16.6 grams of sugar. When selecting your canned fruit, it might be helpful to note that fruits don't necessarily taste better when they've been packed in heavy syrup. They can taste just as good when they've been preserved in lighter syrups, per the University of Minnesota Extension.