Molasses is a thick syrup formed as a by-product of the cane sugar production process. The juice extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets is boiled to produce sugar crystals. Once the sugar is removed, the remaining liquid is a sweet, dark, viscous liquid: molasses.
A Sticky Story: The History of Molasses in Baking
Molasses has been used in kitchens as early as 500 B.C. in India. Molasses was so popular that it was used to trade for slaves being brought from Africa to the Caribbean in the 17th century. In colonial times, molasses was used as a principal sweetener in desserts and dishes, along with honey.
Until the 1880s, molasses was the most popular sweetener in the U.S. because it was much more affordable than sugar. It was widely used as a sweetening agent in baking because of this. However, at the end of World War I, there was a drastic drop in refined sugar prices, leading to a steep reduction in the consumption of molasses.
How to Use Molasses in Baking
Molasses remains popular due to its unique flavour. Thanks to its caramel notes and slightly bitter undertones, molasses is a wonderful addition to several desserts. It adds a layer of complexity to the flavours in cakes and frosting and adds a dash of sweetness to cornbread.
Molasses thickens in every round of boiling in the sugar production process, leading to three kinds of molasses:
- Light molasses: Light or mild molasses is produced after the first round of boiling beet or cane syrup. It has a high sugar content and is the most common variety of molasses used in cooking and baking. Sweeter in taste than dark molasses, this type of molasses is mild enough to be used as a substitute for maple syrup with pancakes. It is ideal for baked goods and candies. Light molasses is used widely in cakes, cookies, sweet bread rolls and pies.
- Dark molasses: Dark molasses is produced after the second round of boiling sugar or beet juice. It has a lower sugar content than light molasses and is darker and thicker in consistency. It is most commonly used in gingerbread, where its intense flavour shines through.
- Blackstrap molasses: This kind of molasses is extremely thick, dark and bitter. Its bitterness makes it unsuitable for use in desserts.
Molasses can also be made from sorghum syrup, dates or pomegranate.
Molasses is also popular as a sugar substitute due to the health benefits it offers. It is packed with nutrients such as iron, calcium, selenium and copper. It also provides more vitamin B6 and potassium than sugar. To replace sugar with molasses, it is best to use between 1/3rd and 1 cup for every cup of sugar, based on the dessert being made. It is important to note that because molasses is a liquid, it makes baked goods moist and chewy in texture. It may thus be unsuitable for dry and crunchy desserts. It can also give desserts a darker hue due to its dark brown colour.
You can also make your own brown sugar using molasses. All you need to do is follow a simple formula. Just remember, Refined Sugar+ Molasses = Brown Sugar – and voilà! You have fresh brown sugar!
Where to Source Molasses for Your Baking Needs
Ready to apply your new-found knowledge in some deliciously sweet desserts? As always, The Select Aisle has your back! Shop our newly-launched molasses to bake the desserts of your dreams.