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Around Christmas-time you may notice more recipes asking for molasses. You may also see that older recipes ask for molasses. The sweetener molasses used to be a cheaper alternative to sugar. As refined sugar became less expensive, molasses declined in popularity. But, molasses still has its uses in everything from baked goods to supplements.

About Molasses

When manufacturers make sugar, they boil sugar cane (and sometimes sugar beets) and remove crystalized (refined) sugar from the liquid. The remaining liquid is molasses. Molasses is a sugar by-product that goes through multiple boiling processes. The residue from the first boiling is known as light or mild molasses. The second boiling produces dark or full molasses. Blackstrap molasses is the product of the third and final boiling.

Three Main Types of Molasses

Light molasses has a distinctive, sweet and mild taste. Containing around 65 percent sucrose, light molasses often doubles as a sweetener and syrup for pancakes. Dark molasses is more full-bodied and less sweet than light molasses. The dark molasses flavor gives body to baked goods like gingerbread and dishes like baked beans. Blackstrap molasses is thicker than both light and dark molasses and also has a bitter flavor. Blackstrap molasses is not used as a flavoring in foods but health food stores sell it at as a nutritional supplement. Blackstrap molasses contains minerals including iron, calcium and copper, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Other Kinds of Molasses

Manufacturers can also make molasses from sugar beet processing. Extremely bitter, sugar beet molasses is unusable in food. This molasses type is typically used to feed cattle and to grow yeast. Another type of molasses, sulphured molasses contains sulfur dioxide as a preservative. Sulphured molasses has a strong and bitter taste to it. Moreover, it’s not as sweet as its unsulphured peers.

Using Molasses

Molasses doesn’t require refrigeration and has a shelf life of approximately six months. When using molasses, cooks should coat measuring utensils with oil or cooking spray to prevent sticking. If molasses crystallizes, it can be melted and re-liquified in a saucepan over low heat. Sometimes mold will develop on the surface. If this occurs, remove the mold with a spoon.

Flavor Substitutions

You can substitute other syrups like honey, dark corn syrup, and maple syrup for molasses in recipes and get a similar flavor result. Brown sugar may also be used. Cook’s Thesaurus suggests that you substitute 1 cup of molasses with 1.5 cups of brown sugar, if needed.