Molasses (/ -/,) or black treacle (British English) is a viscous substance resulting from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Molasses varies in the amount of sugar, method of extraction and age of the plant. Sugarcane molasses is primarily used to sweeten and flavour foods. Molasses is a major constituent of fine commercial brown sugar. It is also one of the primary ingredients used to distil rum.
The word molasses comes from melaço in Portuguese, a derivative (intensifier) of mel (honey) with Latinate roots. Cognates include Ancient Greek μέλι (méli) (honey), Latin mel, Spanish melaza (molasses), Romanian miere or melasă, and French miel (honey).
Cane molasses is an ingredient used in baking and cooking. It was popular in the Americas before the twentieth century, when it was plentiful and commonly used as a sweetener in foods and an ingredient in brewing beer in the colonies. Even George Washington published a molasses beer recipe.
To produce molasses, sugar cane is harvested and stripped of leaves. Its juice is then extracted, usually by cutting, crushing or mashing. The juice is boiled to produce a concentrate and encourage sugar crystallization. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup ('A' Molasses) and has the highest sugar content. First syrup is usually referred to in the Southern United States as cane syrup rather than molasses. Second molasses ('B' Molasses) is produced by a second boiling and sugar extraction and has a slightly bitter taste.
Boiling the sugar syrup a third-time yields dark, viscous blackstrap molasses ('C' Molasses), known for its robust flavour. During this process, the majority of sucrose from the original juice is crystallized and removed. The caloric content of blackstrap molasses is mostly a result of the small amount of remaining sugar content.
Unlike highly refined sugars, molasses contains significant amounts of vitamin B6 and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the recommended daily value of each of those nutrients. Blackstrap is also a good source of potassium. Blackstrap molasses has a history of use as a dietary supplement.
The exaggerated health benefits sometimes claimed for blackstrap molasses was the theme of the 1951 novelty song Black Strap Molasses, recorded by Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, Jane Wyman and Danny Kaye.
In Madeira Island cane molasses is a big part of the traditional cuisine, where it is known as mel-de-cana (Portuguese for "sugarcane honey"). Its origin on the Autonomous Regions dates back its origins to the golden age of sugar production in the archipelago.
Molasses made from sugar beet differs from sugarcane molasses. Only the syrup remaining from the final crystallization stage is referred to as molasses. Intermediate syrups are referred to as high green and low green molasses, and these are recycled at crystallization plants to maximize extraction. Beet molasses is 50% sugar by dry weight, predominantly sucrose, but contains significant amounts of glucose and fructose. Beet molasses is limited in biotin (vitamin H or B7) for cell growth and hence may be supplemented with a biotin source. The non-sugar content includes many salts, including calcium, potassium, oxalate and chloride. It contains betaine and the trisaccharide raffinose. These result from the concentration of the original plant material or other chemicals in processing and are unpalatable to humans. It is therefore mainly used as an animal feed additive (known as molassed sugar beet feed) or a fermentation feedstock.
Additional sugar can also be extracted from beet molasses in a process known as desugarization. The process employs industrial-scale chromatography to separate sucrose from non-sugar components. The technique is economically viable in trade-protected areas, where the price of sugar is supported above market price. As such, it is practised in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Sugar beet molasses is widely consumed in Europe (for example Germany, where it is known as Zuckerrübensirup). Molasses is also used in yeast production.
Pomegranate molasses is a traditional ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. It is made by simmering a mixture of pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice and reducing the mixture for about an hour until the consistency of syrup is achieved.
Molasses can also be produced from grapes, cherries or sour plums.
Many types of molasses on the market are branded unsulfured. In the past, many foods, including molasses, were treated with a sulfur dioxide preservative, helping to kill off moulds and bacteria. Sulfur dioxide is also used as a bleaching agent to help lighten the colour of molasses. Most brands have abandoned the use of sulfur dioxide in molasses because untreated molasses already has a relatively stable natural shelf life. Poor flavour and the trace toxicity of low doses of sulfur dioxide are also factors that have led to the removal of its use.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,213 kJ (290 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
Link to USDA Database entry
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Molasses is composed of 22% water, 75% carbohydrates and very small amounts (0.1%) of fat (table). It contains no protein. In a reference amount of 100 grams, molasses is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin B6 and several dietary minerals, including manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium (table).
The sugars in molasses are sucrose (29% of total carbohydrates), glucose (12%) and fructose (13%) (data from USDA nutrition table).
The use of molasses in food production has many applications:
Mixing tobacco with molasses is a very ancient habit. A WHO report dates back "the addition of molasses to burley tobacco in the nineteenth century to create 'American' blended tobacco". [E]arly health-oriented anthropological research on hookah smoking showed that it [...] can be traced back [to] the 17th century.
Hookah users inhale smoke, which is generated by heating hookah tobacco that is fermented with molasses and fruits and combined with burning charcoal.