What is Molasses?
Molasses is one absolutely vital ingredient when making Rum, so we thought it was high time to explain what this important dark syrup is.
Molasses is a dark, sweet, syrup created as a byproduct during the extraction of sugars from sugarcane. Molasses has a rich history in the Caribbean and Southern United States, where sugarcane is heavily cultivated. Perfect for old-fashioned recipes, molasses is used in holiday baked goods like gingerbread as well as baked beans, barbecue sauce, and other dishes that benefit from its dense sweetness.
What Is Molasses?
During the sugar-making process, juice extracted from sugarcane is boiled down until the sugars crystallize and precipitate out. The syrup left over after crystallization is referred to as molasses. Typically, sugar cane juice undergoes three cycles of boiling and crystallization to extract as much sugar as possible. With each successive cycle, the leftover molasses contains less sugar. Molasses can vary in color, sweetness, and nutritional content depending on the type or how much sugar has been extracted.
There are a few common types of molasses:
Light Molasses: This is the syrup left over after the first boiling cycle of sugarcane juice. It is the lightest in color, has the highest sugar content, and the least viscous texture.
Dark or Medium Molasses: Produced as a byproduct of the second boiling cycle of sugarcane. This molasses is darker and more viscous than light molasses and contains less sugar.
Blackstrap Molasses: This is the final byproduct of the third boiling cycle in the sugar making process. This variety contains the least amount of sugar and has the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals. Blackstrap molasses has a very dark color, is extremely viscous in texture, and, because it's highly concentrated, it has a deep, spicy, almost bitter flavor.
Besides the three types, each can be found in either sulfured or unsulfured molasses. Sulfur acts as a preservative, but it leaches the sweetness and can leave a faint chemical-like aftertaste. Generally, only young sugarcane requires this treatment. Therefore, molasses made from mature sugarcane is often unsulfured, typically leaving it with a lighter, cleaner sugar flavor. There is not a great need to worry about preserving molasses; even unsulfured molasses lasts for several years in the pantry.
Molasses can be used as a sweetener and flavoring in many baked goods and sauces. It adds moisture to the recipe and contributes a darker color. Additionally, it contains calcium, which helps slow down the softening of food, one reason why baked beans retain their shape, even after long cooking times. Light molasses can be used as a pancake syrup or stirred into hot cereals and oatmeal. You can also use molasses to sweeten drinks.
Commercially, molasses is often used to make rum, to brew dark ales like stout, and as a flavor additive for tobacco products. It's also responsible for the dark, rich flavor and texture of brown sugar. Brown sugar is produced by combining refined white sugar with approximately 5 percent molasses.
How to Cook With Molasses
Medium and dark molasses are most often used in baking and are the most versatile. Blackstrap can be used as well though only when the recipe can handle its bitter flavor. It is generally not advised as a substitute for light or dark molasses.
Since molasses is so thick and sticky, spray your measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray or run it under hot water first. The syrup should pour out easily after that.
What Does It Taste Like?
Generally speaking, molasses has a warm, sweet, somewhat smoky flavor. Dark and medium molasses boasts a very robust flavor, light molasses has the mildest flavor, and blackstrap molasses is considerably less sweet with a distinct bitterness.
Nutrition and Benefits
Molasses contains a concentrated level of the vitamins and minerals that were present in the sugarcane itself. It is particularly prized for its iron content, although it also contains other important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The amount of these nutrients depends on the variety of molasses and the process used to make it. Blackstrap molasses tends to have the highest nutrient content because it is the most concentrated and has had the most sugar removed. Every brand and variety of molasses is made differently so always check the nutrition label for the exact nutrient content.
Look out for a cookie recipe using molasses next week Sunday!