molasses: what is it and what is it good for?

by Patricia on November 6, 2009 · 5 comments


Wednesday’s post on how to make your own brown sugar sparked more interest than I expected. And a few questions came up in the comments, so I decided to try to answer them in a post. Here is a summary of what I learned about molasses plus a few more recipes that use molasses.

Molasses is a byproduct of sugar production, whether from sugar cane or sugar beets. Until after the end of World War I, it was the main sweetener used in the U.S. because refined sugar was too expensive for most Americans to buy regularly. By 1919, the consumption of white sugar had doubled since 1880 due to a drastic price drop of refined sugar. These days molasses costs about twice as much as refined sugars.

  • What is the difference between molasses and treacle?

This one is still not completely clear to me (maybe I should go find treacle and do a taste test), but according to

A pale, refined molasses, [treacle] is notably sweeter and has a much more mellow flavor than molasses. Nowadays, treacle is a blend of molasses and refinery syrup.

British treacle can be substituted for molasses in most recipes, but much less frequently will molasses work as a replacement for treacle.

  • Aside from making brown sugar, what is molasses good for?

Brit, that is a great question. In the interest of full disclosure I feel I should tell you that I don’t use a lot of molasses. I make gingerbread for the holidays. And in the summer, I use it in barbecue sauce. But it keeps for a long time (years) so I always keep a little in the pantry.
I posed the question to the food community on Twitter and only got two responses. I’m not sure if that reflects more on the (lack of) popularity of molasses or of me, but Jacquie H. said homemade barbecue sauce and Janice Ray uses molasses for a deep, dark ginger cake. So from my sample of two, I seem to be about average in my use of the dark stuff.

I dug a little deeper and found out these interesting tidbits:

Unlike refined sugars, it contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients.

… and…

In Australia, molasses is fermented to produce ethanol for use as an alternative fuel in motor vehicles, and is also used to treat burns.

from Wikipedia

So it’s healthy, can be used in your garden and to feed your livestock (if you have any), and in Australia is turned into an alternative fuel. I also read on Wikipedia that it can be used to remove rust. Hmm.

A few more recipes using molasses:

Well, I’m not sure I really answered your questions, but I learned a little about molasses. And now I’m craving gingerbread.



1 Charles Thompson November 8, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for part 2/the follow up. My association with molasses is a bit like yours, Patricia: haven’t used it much, know it’s used in desserts and some breads. But I also relate it more to my grandparents and great-grandparents time than ours. Interesting subject.

2 Brit Hammer November 7, 2009 at 9:00 am

Thanks Patricia, also for your post on brown sugar which I found quite interesting. :-) Thanks also to Jim for his comment above.

I admit I have a negative association with molasses (that it’s bad-tasting or overly sweet/”chemical” tasting…or both) and so I also appreciate Jim’s comment, above and am curious to hear back what he says.

Sure, I could do the research, but somehow it’s more fun to pose the Q to a group and get the collective wisdom. Dontcha think?

I find the cultural stories the most interesting–the “how things got to be this way”. Like WHY people switched from molasses to refined sugar. And what did they use before molasses? Maybe it’s anthropology? For me it dispels some cooking “myths” and makes recipes “understandable”, if that makes any sense.

I tend to use honey as a sweetener these days since I enjoy SOME sweetness in my food–a “natural” sweet–but not what I call “American sweet”, which is much sweeter than “European sweet”. I guess that’s the result of growing up on both sides of The Pond? Which reminds me, Patricia, would you share some of your fave Korean recipes with us that we could actually make? (i.e. kimchi w/o having to bury in the ground for months in a clay pot). Korean is my ab-fave food and it’s more fun to make a recipe from someone I “know” than from a cookbook… :-)

Oh, and any chance you would consider streaming you cooking on U-Stream so we can watch and/or cook WITH you? Kind of like a “Cook Along with Patricia”? Subscription rates? (Might be a new biz model?)

3 Jim November 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

This is so interesting,I was raised around what I will call homemade syrup,but others here call it molasses,and the older folks,when I was young,called it blackstrap molasses.I’ve help make it many times,and went and picked up,1/2 gallons,two weeks ago,where we will make again Thanksgiving .The old folks made cookies,cakes,pies,and many other recipes,with it,and it was also used to mix with cow and horse feed,especially if accidently over cooked,for use on the table.I will have to look into it,around here local and then read some on these sites.I have saw some fine syrup makers,those of old,would dip it,and stream it out of a dipper and taste it,for prefection,now some of them,check the weight,to see if the water is all gone,it will a certain amount?? But,the bad has really a bad flavor,and also the different sugar cane,gives a different taste.I do know there is much study in the state and school levels.I’ll get back!!!

4 Holly November 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Interesting! I didn’t know most of that stuff either!

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