Very few people know what to substitute for molasses when they suddenly run out of this super-thick sweetening syrup in the middle of a baking session.
Sometimes, this could end up being the difference between a well-baked dessert and a poorly planned disaster. Because even fewer people know what molasses really is or what it’s made from in the first place. So, we’ll begin our journey into finding a quality molasses substitute right from the beginning.
Molasses – How Much Do You Know About It?
Molasses is actually a close relative of refined sugar. No kidding, these two go way back. Probably why they are used for such similar purposes. A little bit of digging tells us that their family tree can be traced back to the legendary sugarcane.
Let’s face it—the gatherer who discovered molasses probably set out trying to see what good could be done with the thick syrup left from the crystallization of juice extracted from sugarcane. And to be frank, the result hasn’t turned out so bad, especially for such a gooey byproduct.
Before we move on to the point of identifying our molasses alternative, let us try to examine the steps our innovative ancestor must have taken before he arrived at the discovery of this useful ingredient:
- Using a carving knife, he would have stripped the leaves completely off the sugarcane. Molasses has no need for them.
- Then, he would have extracted the juice (melon-colored) after crushing the sugarcane with a standard-sized pestle and mortar.
- He then would have poured the juice into a pot and heated it until it reached boiling point.
- And next, he’d need to remove the byproduct before leaving it to cool considerably.
- Finally, he would discover it to be edible and safe to use, deciding to call it molasses!
We really must give kudos to our ancient gatherer here. He very much deserves a place in our Bakers-Hall-Of-Fame, right? This might not be exactly how it happened, but sure enough, regardless of how it was discovered, those 5 steps were definitely involved. That’s the simplest way of extracting molasses.
Why We Have Different Flavors of Molasses
In trying to understand the usage of alternatives and substitutes, a study of the varieties of molasses is fundamental, as it will help us determine why molasses is used and in what quantity it should be used.
Molasses comes in flavors of different kinds. This mostly boils down to how soon or late in the boiling process it was collected and cooled, and sometimes it also involves how many more times it was re-boiled and cooled. The type of molasses with the most concentration of sugar is commonly referred to as “the First Molasses.”
This type is derived from the first stage of heating. It is light in color and not as gooey or as sticky as others. It is mostly used in baking, rubs, sauces, and marinades, or as a topping for toast and oatmeal. Light Molasses is said to make bread more crusty and cookies softer, so a light molasses substitute should be able to perform the same function.
Another type of Molasses is dark molasses. Discovered after our gatherer-ancestor (or maybe this time around, it was someone else) must have boiled the molasses a second time, dark molasses is thicker, darker in color, and less sweet.
This variety is more commonly used in the baking of gingerbread cookies. It can also be used as a substitute for molasses, but we will come back to that much later. So just chill for a bit.
Then there’s the blackstrap molasses, which is produced after boiling the molasses for a third time. Apart from being very thick and of a darker shade, this variety is also bitter in taste, which effectively rules it out as a potential molasses alternative.
You need a sweet alternative, not something bitter.
Because of its pronounced bitterness, it can only be used in a few select dishes, like savory baked beans and pulled pork.
It is, however, easy to see how our Hall-Of-Famer must have found this useful, as the blackstrap molasses has been tested and found to be the variation with the most health benefits. Having been concentrated by three boilings, it contains the highest mineral and vitamin content.
So the next time you walk into a health food store and find a jar of blackstrap molasses, know that you just found yourself a nutritious goldmine. Consider purchasing a jar of it.
There are also other types of molasses which are not as common as the ones listed up there. One such type is unsulfured molasses. Derived from sugarcane which has not been treated with sulfur dioxide, this type of molasses is known for not having the slight chemical taste which is usually associated with more popular molasses types.
It is more organic but also more difficult and expensive to find, as most sugarcane farmers use sulfur dioxide to improve the yield of their sugarcane crops.
Now that we know how molasses is made and we also have a fair knowledge of the various varieties of molasses out there, it is time to finally unveil our exclusive list of molasses alternatives which you can call upon the next time you find yourself in a… well, let’s call it a sticky situation. Pun definitely intended!
Molasses Replacement – We’ve Picked the Top 8 Alternatives
There are quite a number of ingredients in your pantry that can serve as substitutes for molasses in case you run out, or simply because you’re put off by the price. I’ll try to do an in-depth break down for you here.
Most people think because molasses is made from sugarcane, corn syrup is also made from a sweet corn variant, but this is actually not the case. Corn Syrup is a byproduct of corn, but it’s made from the tough, starchy corn variety commonly used as animal feed.
Yes, you read that right. Starches actually contain hordes of glucose molecules crammed together in tidy bundles which are then broken down into glucose by a combo of enzymes and acidity. Glucose is sugar that doesn’t crystallize but instead stays liquid.
Corn syrup also has two variations: caramel-colored light corn syrup, which is often glucose with a hint of vanilla, and dark corn syrup, which often has a few other ingredients (molasses included) added to give it a distinct dark color and unique flavor.
Dark corn syrup is often used as a light molasses substitute as well as a dark molasses substitute. It is important to know before using that it won’t necessarily give off the exact flavor, nor will it work in tandem with baking soda to help your pastries rise.
You might have to use baking powder or include an acid (say, lemon) to help with those functions. Dark corn syrup will, however, help keep your regular sugar from crystallizing, add sheen and moisture, or sweeten your baking just as molasses would have done.
While there are a few health concerns about the usage of corn syrups as a replacement for molasses, most of the focus has been on high-fructose corn syrup, also referred to as HFCS. This type is made by breaking down—via certain enzymes—the syrup’s glucose into fructose, which is sweeter and cheaper when purchased in high volume.
This is, however, a completely separate issue. While molasses is certainly more nutritious by comparison, if you consider the nutritional value of molasses, you’re already consuming too much sugar. Note that for adequate results, you must substitute a cup of molasses for a cup of dark corn syrup.
Brown sugar is a sucrose product with a unique brown color. It can be unrefined or refined (partially). It’s soft sugar with some residual natural brown sweetening. It is usually produced by adding a measure of molasses to commercial brown sugar.
Brown sugar produced thus is often more coarse than its refined counterpart, and the sugarcane molasses can be easily exposed by washing it. This would reveal the white sugar crystals lying underneath.
Brown sugar is an easy substitute for molasses, given that molasses itself is a part of its makeup. Brown sugar is often used for similar recipes as granulated white sugar, but it comes with an extra touch of flavor.
Just like molasses, it is often used in sweetening pastries, sauces, beverages, and marinades. In some places, a combination of brown sugar is used to make alcoholic drinks like rum.
And because of its granules and the pH, which is slightly acidic, brown sugar has also become a common ingredient in body scrubs. Common varieties of brown sugar include light brown sugar (3.5 percent molasses by weight) and dark brown sugar (6.5 percent molasses), which is used when an extra rich flavor or color is desired.
Other options are Sugar in the Raw and liquid brown sugar. In order to retain its moisture content, brown sugar is stored in an airtight container as it may harden, causing the moisture to evaporate if exposed to air. For the right results, substitute one cup of molasses for ¾ cup of tightly-packed brown sugar.
More often than not, maple syrup is made from the xylem sap of black, red, or sugar maple trees. Sometimes it is made from other maple species. Before winter, these trees store starch in their roots and trunks while present in cold climates, and this starch is then transformed into sugar, rising up through the sap during early spring or late winter.
In order to tap maple trees, holes are drilled into their trunks to collect sap, which is then processed. Most of the water is evaporated, leaving the concentrated syrup.
The indigenous people of North America were the first to collect and use maple syrup. This production method was gradually refined by European settlers who adopted the practice. The Canadian province of Quebec is responsible for about 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup output.
This syrup is made by boiling 20 to 50 volumes of sap—depending on the concentration—over an open furnace until a single volume of sap is obtained. This is usually done at a temperature of about 4.1 °C. Maple syrup can be boiled over one heat source or boiled in smaller batches at a more controlled temperature.
Boiling the syrup is perhaps the trickiest part of the process, as it must neither be over-boiled nor under-boiled. Over-boiled syrup will eventually crystallize, while under-boiled syrup will be watery and can spoil quite quickly.
Although like molasses, it can be used as a sweetener for pastries, maple syrup is a lot more than just an ingredient for your baking table. It contains nutrients like potassium, thiamine, manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. Maple syrup is a purely natural sweetener, and a ½ cup serving provides over 40 percent of your daily zinc requirement.
When using maple syrup as a substitute for molasses when baking, it is important to first line the measuring cup with cooking spray to prevent the syrup from sticking stubbornly to the surface.
When using as a replacement for molasses, one cup of maple syrup is perfect to exchange for a cup of molasses. Too much will ruin your baking.
Honey really doesn’t need much of an introduction, does it? No, so let’s just dive right into it. Honey is a sweetener just like molasses, and it seems like a natural thing to substitute molasses with honey. It is especially good as an unsulfured molasses substitute.
Honey is even thicker than maple syrup, hence your finished product should have a texture similar to what you would have gotten if you had used molasses.
The fact that honey is sweeter also means that there could be a slight difference in the taste. If you use honey, you might want to add a few extra spices to temper the sweetness and add a similar flavor to what molasses would have given. Remember to use a cup of honey as a substitute for every cup of molasses required in your recipe.
Like honey, this alternative to molasses needs no introduction. If you find yourself in a crunch of a situation and granulated sugar is all you can find, all you have to do is combine ¼ cup of water and ¾ cup of white granulated sugar to make an effective syrup.
You may not get the trademark deep-brown color that molasses gives you, but you’ll get a desirable result. You can even add ¼ teaspoons of tartar to your mixture to aid its stability. This should be your last option.
Apple sauce as a molasses substitute is best for you if you’re generally trying to avoid processed sugars for whatever reason. Quite easy to prepare, you can add sweetener and some cinnamon to make your substitute healthier as you bake.
It is also a great choice for your unsulfured molasses substitute. Apple sauce has no specific measurement because its consistency varies, so all you need do is channel your intuition to help out with this one. Easy, right? Now it’s time to put those leftover apples from your recent harvest to work.
This is another healthy and organic molasses alternative. It is quite similar to molasses, having almost the same properties, but the difference in flavors would probably give you away if you tried to pass them off as the same.
So, you must once more consider adding a healthy amount of seasoning and spices into your recipe to make up for these deficiencies. As for measurement, it is advisable to go with a one-to-one ratio, then alter your measurement as needed, depending on the thickness of your yogurt.
Here’s another ingredient with which you could dig yourself out of a hole if you ever run out of molasses. Steeped in the traditions of the Southern back-country of America, sorghum syrup production is considered an art in itself and whole fairs are organized for folks to come and watch mules power presses which squeeze the juice from sorghum stalk.
The juice is afterward heated and the syrup extracted. Sorghum syrup is quite nutritious, containing nutrients such as calcium, iron, and potassium. To get the desired effect when substituting for molasses, use it to taste.
Other ingredients that could equally be used in place of molasses are brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup.
It has been a wonderful journey through the land of molasses and her sweet-talking cousins. While we enjoy the ride home, it is important to note that when using a substitute for molasses, one must be careful not to use a substitute which would be totally ineffective for, or cause damage to, a particular recipe.
This could again be the difference between a well-baked dessert and a poorly-planned disaster. Thus, carefulness, restraint, and heavy consideration are advised. Use the appropriate measurements for each alternative (as required) and leave nothing to chance.
Please endeavor to make sure your health conditions are taken into consideration with your substitutions. Remember, one ingredient not to use as a replacement for molasses is blackstrap molasses. Its bitterness could completely overwhelm your recipe. Goodbye and good luck!