Molasses, or black treacle (British, for human consumption; known as molasses otherwise), is a viscous by-product of refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Molasses varies by amount of sugar, method of extraction, and age of plant. Sugarcane molasses is agreeable in taste and aroma, and is primarily used for sweetening and flavoring foods in U.S., Canada and elsewhere, while sugar beet molasses is foul-smelling and unpalatable, so it is mainly used as an animal feed additive in Europe and Russia, where it is chiefly produced. It is a defining component of fine commercial brown sugar.
Sweet sorghum syrup may be colloquially called "sorghum molasses" in the southern United States. Similar products include treacle, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, and invert syrup. Most of these alternative syrups have milder flavors.
To make molasses, sugar cane is harvested and stripped of leaves. Its juice is extracted, usually by cutting, crushing, or mashing. The juice is boiled to concentrate it, promoting sugar crystallization. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup, and it has the highest sugar content. First syrup is usually referred to in the Southern states of the U.S. as cane syrup, as opposed to molasses. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slightly bitter taste.
The third boiling of the sugar syrup yields dark, viscous blackstrap molasses, known for its robust flavor. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has crystallized and been removed. The caloric content of blackstrap molasses is mostly due to the small remaining sugar content. Unlike highly refined sugars, it 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 long been sold as a dietary supplement.
The exaggerated health benefits sometimes claimed for blackstrap molasses were the topic of a 1951 novelty song, Black Strap Molasses, recorded by Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, Jane Wyman, and Danny Kaye.
Sugar beet molasses
Molasses made from sugar beets differs from sugarcane molasses. Only the syrup left from the final crystallization stage is called molasses. Intermediate syrups are called high green and low green, and these are recycled within the crystallization plant 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; hence, it may be supplemented with a biotin source. The nonsugar content includes many salts, such as calcium, potassium, oxalate, and chloride. It contains betaine and the trisaccharide raffinose. These are a result of concentration from the original plant material or chemicals in processing, and make it unpalatable to humans. So, it is mainly used as an additive to animal feed (called "molassed sugar beet feed") or as a fermentation feedstock.
Extracting additional sugar from beet molasses is possible through molasses desugarization. This exploits industrial-scale chromatography to separate sucrose from nonsugar components. The technique is economically viable in trade-protected areas, where the price of sugar is supported above market price. As such, it is practiced in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Molasses is also used for yeast production.
Many kinds of molasses on the market come branded as "unsulphured" (using the British spelling of sulfur). Many foods, including molasses, were once treated with sulfur dioxide as a preservative, helping to kill off molds and bacteria. Sulfur dioxide is also used as a bleaching agent, and helped to lighten the color of molasses. Most brands have veered away from sulphured molasses, due to the relatively stable natural shelf life of untreated molasses, the off flavor that can arise from using sulfur dioxide, and because sulfur dioxide in high doses can be toxic.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, molasses is produced from carob, grapes, dates, pomegranates, and mulberries. In Nepal it is called chaku (Nepal Bhasa: चाकु) and used in the preparation of Newari foods such as yomari.
Food products and additives
Molasses can be used:
- In dark rye breads or other whole grain breads
- In some cookies and pies
- In gingerbread (particularly in the Americas)
- In barbecue sauces
- In beer styles such as stouts and porters
- The principal ingredient in the distillation of rum
- As a humectant in jerky processing
- An iron supplement
- An additive in livestock feeds
- An ingredient in fishing groundbait
- A source for yeast production
- The main ingredient in the production of citric acid
- An additive in tobacco smoked in a hookah, shisha, or narghile (found in the brands The King, Al Fakher Tobacco, Cedars Tobacco, Mazaya, Nakhla, Tangiers, Salloum, and Hookafina Blak)
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- The carbon source for in situ remediation of chlorinated hydrocarbons
- Blended with magnesium chloride and used for de-icing
- A stock for ethanol fermentation to produce an alternative fuel for motor vehicles
- As a brightener in copper electroforming solution when used in tandem with thiourea
- As a minor component of mortar for brickwork
- Mixed with glue to case ink rollers on early printing presses
- As a soil additive to promote microbial activity
- As a potato plant cicatrizant after a hail storm
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,213 kJ (290 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Molasses contains no protein or dietary fibre and close to no fat. Each tablespoon (20 g) contains 58 kcal (240 kJ), 14.95 g of carbohydrates, including 14.94 g of sugar divided between sucrose, glucose and fructose in rough proportions of 2:1:1.
Minerals in meridian/organic/pure blackstrap per 100 g (equivalent to 5 tablespoons):
- Calcium: 400 mg (50% RDA)
- Iron: 13 mg (95% RDA)
- Magnesium: 300 mg (38% RDA)
The word comes from the Proto-Indo-European mélid. Cognates include Ancient Greek μέλι (méli) (honey), Latin mel, Spanish melaza (molasses), French miel (honey), and Portuguese melaço.
- Anadama bread
- Brown sugar
- Great Molasses Flood
- Maillard reaction
- Shoofly pie
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