Molasses is a thick, brown to deep black, honey-like substance obtained as a by-product when cane or beet sugar is processed. It is enjoyed as a sweetener in many countries, particularly in England where it is called treacle.
The quality of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or sugar beet, the amount of sugar extracted, and the method of extraction. For hundreds of years, molasses and sulphur or treacle and brimstone were thought to have healthful benefits, and children were frequently given doses of the product. As a sweetener, many enjoy its hearty sweet flavour that leaves a sharp taste on the tongue. It gives delicious results when used in baking.
Cane molasses - Sulphured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulphur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction process. Sulphur-free molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require treatment with sulphur. There are three grades of molasses: mild or first molasses; dark or second molasses; and blackstrap.
Blackstrap molasses - It is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is therefore the concentrated by-product left over after the sugar's sucrose has been crystallized. Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that is actually good for you. Unlike refined white sugar and corn syrup, which are stripped of virtually all nutrients except simple carbohydrates, or artificial sweeteners like saccharine or aspartame, which not only provide no useful nutrients but have been shown to cause health problems in sensitive individuals, blackstrap molasses is a healthful sweetener that contains significant amounts of a variety of minerals that promote your health.
Sugar beet molasses - Molasses that comes from the sugar beet is different from cane molasses. It is unpalatable, and is mainly used as an additive to animal feed or as a fermentation feedstock.
How to select
• Look for molasses that are sulphur-free, since some people may be sensitive to this processing chemical. It also has a cleaner and clarified taste.
• The molasses made from organic sugar cane is also available in some markets.
• Today, molasses are used primarily for baking.
• No gingerbread cookie or cake would be quite the same without the addition of molasses.
• Some people enjoy using it on hot cereals like cream of wheat or cornmeal mush.
• Molasses is also a necessary ingredient in the pumpkin pie traditionally made during the Thanksgiving holiday.
• In England, it is enjoyed as a sweetener on porridge.
• Homemade caramel corn is especially good with a dollop of molasses added to the sugar mixture.
• Adding molasses to baked beans will give them that traditionally robust flavour.
How to store
• Molasses should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place.
• Unopened containers should keep for about one year, while opened containers should keep for about six months.
• Molasses has more nutritional value than white or brown sugar.
• The process by which it is extracted and treated with sulphur results in fortification of iron, calcium and magnesium.
• Some natural health food experts advocate its use for ailments of the stomach.
• Concerns about sulphur, however, have led to many brands of molasses that are sulphur-free. These are widely available in both natural food stores and supermarkets.
• Calories in molasses are approximately the same as sugar, about 16 calories per teaspoon (5 ml). However it only contains about half the sucrose as sugar. It is also made up of both glucose and fructose.
• Though it is high in iron, it is also high in calcium, which tends to prevent iron from being absorbed by the body!