Molasses is a sweetener many people use during holidays. But it has its fans throughout the year, although you may be confused about the difference between blackstrap molasses and unsulphured molasses.
Blackstrap molasses is thick, dark and has the lowest sugar concentration of all varieties. Unsulphured molasses is squeezed from ripe sugarcane, and is typically the variety you buy in the supermarket.
What Is Blackstrap Molasses?
Blackstrap molasses isn't as sweet as unsulphured molasses, according to the University of Wyoming Extension. It's made from the third and final boiling of sugarcane or beet juice. Sugarcane and beet juice are boiled into a syrup to make sugar crystals, the kind you find in table sugar.
Once the sugar crystals are removed from the cane or beet juice syrup, the remainder is molasses. This syrup is then boiled, and what remains after the third and last boil is blackstrap molasses. Some of the sweetness is removed in each boiling, and the remaining blackstrap molasses is thick and dark, with a bitter flavor.
That bitter flavor has its uses. Pulled pork and baked bean dishes often call for blackstrap molasses. This food ingredient also contains some healthy nutrients. The nutrients in one tablespoon of Golden Barrel Blackstrap Molasses include, for example:
- Calcium, 150 milligrams, 12 percent of daily value (DV)
- Iron, 2 milligrams or 11 percent of DV
- Potassium, 380 milligrams or 8 percent of DV
What Is Unsulphured Molasses?
Going back to sugarcane processing, molasses is made from either sugarcane or sugar beet juice, which is boiled into a syrup. The sugar crystals are removed from the syrup, and the leftover brown liquid is boiled until it becomes molasses.
Sometimes, molasses extracted from unripe sugarcane is treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve it, according to Grandma's Molasses. This process can leave a chemical taste, notes the University of Wyoming Extension.
Molasses processed from ripe sugarcane doesn't need sulphur dioxide to preserve it. Without the sulphur dioxide, this ingredient is able to keep its rich, light flavor.
Unsulphured molasses can be light, dark or blackstrap, as long as it hasn't been treated with sulphur dioxide. Most commercially produced molasses is unsulphured, points out the University of Wyoming.
The first boiling of the sugarcane or beet juice produces a light, sweet, mild molasses. This light molasses is usually used to make molasses cookies softer and bread crustier. Light, unsulphured molasses is the most commonly sold molasses in the U.S.
Read more: How to Moisten a Cake After Baking
Molasses on Your Menu
You can choose from light molasses, boiled once, dark molasses, boiled twice, or blackstrap, boiled three times. The sugar content of light and dark, according to Serious Eats, is about 70 percent, while the bitter blackstrap molasses contains about 45 percent sugar. All that boiling concentrates the mineral content, which is why blackstrap molasses has more nutrients in it than plain sugar, says the Golden Barrel.
Grandma's Molasses suggests using light molasses to sweeten hot cereals, yogurts and hot drinks, as well as using it as an ingredient in gingerbreads, molasses cookies, pies like shoofly pie, cakes and glazes. Dark, or robust, as Grandma's calls the second boiling of molasses, is good for baked beans or barbecue sauce. Southern Living also suggests using dark molasses in gingerbread cake if you like a stronger molasses flavor.
Golden Barrel molasses suggests using blackstrap molasses in baked beans because it enhances the flavor and gives the beans their rich, dark color. The Splendid Table has a cake recipe that incorporates blackstrap, and Golden Barrel features several blackstrap recipes on its website.
Serious Eats suggests that, before substituting blackstrap for lighter, sweeter molasses, to use a recipe that specifically calls for it. Not only is it less sweet, but blackstrap is more dense, which will alter the moisture content of a recipe. Southern Living advises you to never substitute blackstrap molasses for sweet molasses without a recipe to guide you.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Sweeteners
Molasses and Health
Molasses is often touted as a healthy alternative to sugar. But hold on. Blackstrap molasses does have more mineral content than plain sugar. Light and dark forms of molasses also contain minerals, according to Golden Barrel, although not as much as blackstrap. As Berkeley Wellness points out, most molasses varieties don't have much nutrition, though.
Blackstrap does contain some nutrients, but it also has a bitter flavor, which makes it less likely to be called a sweetener, Berkeley Wellness says. The Mayo Clinic reports that the FDA recognizes molasses as a natural sweetener along with honey, maple syrup, fruit juices and nectars.
While they may seem healthier, the vitamin and mineral content of natural sweeteners isn't significantly different. Use a natural sweetener based on taste, not on health claims, and use it sparingly.
Eating too much molasses, like any other added sweetener, can lead to weight gain. If you can tolerate the bitter taste of blackstrap molasses, and you use it in place of sugar, you will reduce your sugar consumption. But the Mayo Clinic says to use natural sweeteners in moderation.
Some natural wellness websites claim that molasses cures certain ailments. While blackstrap molasses has iron, calcium and potassium, as the Mayo Clinic notes, use these sweeteners in moderation rather than as a way to reduce deficiencies in iron or other nutrients.
Potential Side Effects of Molasses
There aren't many scientific studies on molasses, and those that do exist are limited in scope. Additionally, most use human cells rather than individuals as the basis of analysis.
One study analyzed a line of colon cancer cells isolated from colon cancer patients. The results, published in the June 2016 issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, showed that polyphenols isolated from sugar beet molasses had a toxic effect the colon cancer cells in a lab setting. This study used an extract, however.
Another study published in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry also focused on human cells. It showed that sugar beet molasses and sugar cane molasses provided some antioxidant protection to the cells. More research is needed, however, especially with human subjects.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in its December 2016 issue concluded that filtered sugarcane molasses concentrate, when added to carbohydrate foods in a meal, helped lower blood glucose and insulin responses in healthy subjects. No information about the number of people studied was provided, however.
Note, though, that the glycemic index of molasses is 55, while that of table sugar is 80, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The glycemic index measures how quickly sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, so this would have an impact on this study.
- University of Wyoming Extension: "The Flavors of Molasses"
- Serious Eats: "The Difference Between Blackstrap and True Molasses"
- Golden Barrel: "Golden Barrel Blackstrap Molasses"
- Grandma's Molasses: "Frequently Asked Questions"
- Golden Barrel: "Frequently Asked Questions About Golden Barrel Molasses"
- Southern Living: "Everything You Need to Know About Molasses"
- Golden Barrel: "Molasses Baked Beans"
- Splendid Table: "Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake"
- Golden Barrel Recipes: "Search Results for Blackstrap"
- Golden Barrel: "Golden Barrel Supreme Baking Molasses"
- Berkeley Wellness: "Molasses: It's Still Just Sugar"
- Mayo Clinic: "Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes"
- Earth Matters Clinic: "Blackstrap Molasses Cures and Astounding Health Benefits"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Postprandial Insulin and Glucose Levels Are Reduced in Healthy Subjects When a Standardised Breakfast Meal Is Supplemented With a Filtered Sugarcane Molasses Concentrate"
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: "Understanding Sweeteners Clinical Tool"
- Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences: "The Effect of Sugar Cane Molasses on the Immune and Male Reproductive Systems Using in Vitro and in Vivo Methods"
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Cytotoxicity and Apoptotic Effects of Polyphenols From Sugar Beet Molasses on Colon Carcinoma Cells in Vitro"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Sugar Cane and Sugar Beet Molasses, Antioxidant-Rich Alternatives to Refined Sugar"