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What Is Molasses? 7 Ways to Cook With Molasses

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

If you’ve ever poured molasses, you understand where the phrase “slow as molasses” comes from. The dark brown liquid is a sweetener made from the boiled juice of sugar cane and sugar beets. From the Latin word mellaceum—“honey-like”—molasses is used in cooking, especially in the Caribbean and the southern United States where sugar crops grow. Molasses gives baked beans their thick texture, sweetens up barbecue sauces, and makes gingerbread cookies brown, soft, and chewy.



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What Is Molasses?

Molasses is a thick syrup formed during the sugar-making process. It is made when juice is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets and then boiled to produce sugar crystals. The sugar is removed and the remaining liquid is the sweet, dark, viscous liquid called molasses.

Where Does Molasses Come From?

Molasses is a byproduct of cane sugar production. When sugar cane or sugar beets are mashed, they release juice. When this juice is boiled, sugar crystallizes on the liquid. When the sugar is removed, the liquid is boiled and becomes denser. With each round of boiling, the molasses thickens, creating three different types: light, dark, and blackstrap. While molasses is most often a byproduct of sugar production, it can also be made from sorghum syrup, pomegranate, carob, or dates.

3 Types of Molasses

Three types of molasses are made from the sugar production process:

  1. Light molasses: Also called Barbados or mild molasses, light molasses is produced after the first boiling of beet or cane syrup. Light molasses has a high sugar content and is sweeter than dark molasses. It is the most common variety and is light enough to be drizzled over pancakes in place of maple syrup.
  2. Dark molasses: This type of molasses is produced after the second boiling of sugar or beet juice. It is darker, thicker, and has a lower amount of sugar than light molasses. The intense flavor makes it a perfect ingredient for gingerbread.
  3. Blackstrap molasses: After a third boiling round, the remaining sugar syrup is darker and incredibly thick. This is blackstrap molasses. Even though it’s gooey and the most bitter of all molasses types, it’s rich in iron, minerals, and vitamins like B6. Its bitter taste makes it unsuitable as a light or dark molasses substitute, or for any sweet recipes. Blackstrap molasses is often used for animal feed.
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7 Uses for Molasses

From sweet goods to savory dishes, light and dark molasses can be used in a variety of ways. Molasses adds moisture and color to baked goods like pecan pie, and it thickens up barbecue sauce for meat like pulled pork. Some other ways to use molasses in cooking include:

  1. Syrup: Light molasses can be a substitute for maple syrup, drizzled over pancakes or to sweeten a bowl of oatmeal.
  2. Baked beans: The viscosity of dark molasses and its high calcium level keep baked beans firm.
  3. Brown sugar: Brown sugar is a combination of white sugar mixed with molasses. Molasses gives brown sugar its color and moist, thick consistency.
  4. Desserts: In baked goods, molasses creates a moist consistency. It is used in sweets like pecan pie and gingerbread recipes.
  5. Pumpernickel bread: Along with brown sugar and cocoa powder, molasses is a main ingredient of this dark bread.
  6. Marinades: The thick consistency and sweet flavor of molasses pair well with grilled meat.
  7. Rum: Fermented and distilled sugar cane molasses is a regular ingredient in rum.


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How to Substitute Molasses

While nothing can truly replicate that viscous, bittersweet flavor of molasses, other sweet ingredients can be used as a substitute if needed.

For savory recipes, swap out a cup of molasses for one cup of:

  • Corn syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Black treacle (the British version of molasses)

For baking, trade the cup of molasses for a combination of:

  • White sugar, water, and cream of tartar
  • Brown sugar

2 Recipes Using Molasses

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Often, molasses made with young sugar cane is treated with sulfur dioxide to act as a preservative. However, unsulfured molasses has a more natural flavor and is preferred for cooking. Here are two recipes using molasses:

1. How to Make Molasses Gingerbread Cookies

While mostly eaten during the winter holidays, gingerbread cookies are a classic molasses recipe. Soften butter and mix with brown sugar until fully incorporated. Add in half a cup of molasses, an egg, vanilla, and beat. In a second bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir the dry ingredients into the molasses bowl. Once the dough comes together, roll into two or three balls, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least one hour. Flour your counter or table and roll out the dough until it’s only a quarter-inch thick. Use a gingerbread person cookie cutter to cut the figures out of the dough. Put them on a greased pan and bake at 350 °F for 8-10 minutes. Let cool and decorate with frosting if desired.

2. How to Make Barbecue Sauce

Dark molasses is best for this classic southern sauce. Some people even use blackstrap molasses in barbecue sauce. In a bowl, mix together molasses, ketchup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, vegetable oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper and spices like chili powder, depending on how hot you want your sauce. You can either heat all of the ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Eat as a sauce for cooked meat, or add the mixture as is into a slow cooker with a four-pound cut of pork butt for a sweet pulled pork that will fall apart after 8 hours. Try Aaron Franklin’s BBQ rib sauce here.

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