Molasses – known as black treacle in the United Kingdom – is a by-product of refining table sugar. The most common form is from refining sugarcane or sugar beet, but other forms of extraction exist, especially in the Middle East, where it is produced from carob, grapes, mulberries, dates, or pomegranates.
Like honey or treacle, molasses is generally sold in jars, tins, or plastic squeeze bottles. Sometimes, sulphur dioxide is added as a preservative, but leaves it with a slightly chemical flavour, less sweet. Most commercially sold molasses is not sulphured and the labelling will generally make this distinction clear.
In the same way olive oil can be graded by pressings, so molasses can be defined by boilings.
- Light molasses comes from the first boiling, is lightest in colour, sweetest in flavour, and is most commonly used in baking. It makes cookies softer and bread crustier.
- Dark molasses comes from the second boiling and is thicker, darker, stronger and not as sweet. It gives gingerbread its distinctive colour and taste.
- Blackstrap molasses is the full treacle, made from the third boiling, black, bitter and thick. You cannot use it in recipes that call for light or dark molasses. It is, however, considered the most healthiest since it retains the vitamins and minerals. You can use it to perk up baked beans or pulled pork which make the most of its smoky qualities, but only use it in recipes that specify it.
Nutritionally, while any molasses is better for you than sugar, the darker, the better. The vitamins, nutrients and minerals found in molasses, especially blackstrap, can help treat constipation, improve sexual health, relieve menstrual cramps, help reduce obesity, promote healthy hair growth, bones and teeth, are beneficial in the treatment of cancer, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels, and protect from cardiovascular disorders. Molasses is rich in copper which helps rid the body of free radicals. Which is why you will often find molasses sold in health food shops.