Admit it: if you could eat nothing but cake for the rest of your days without putting on a pound, you’d eat that cake. The internet abounds with “healthy” alternatives to ingredients like sugar, but how many are actually healthy and which are simply healthier? Molasses is often touted as a sweet substitute.
So, let’s take a deeper dive and explore what’s really going on.
The FDA sets recommended daily values (DV) for various nutrients, while the US Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central gives us the nutritional data we need to compare the two.
A teaspoon of molasses weighs in at about 20 grams. As you’ll soon see, most regular recipes call for 4 or 5 tablespoons. So, using 100 g of molasses vs. 100 grams of sugar as a rough guide:
Okay, good to know. But what does all that mean in real life? What does science have to say about the health benefits of swapping sugar for molasses?
You’ll find the minerals iron, selenium, copper, and calcium in molasses. According to a 2016 review, getting adequate iron, selenium, and copper intake may help prevent deficiency and keep your bones sturdy. And consuming enough calcium can help you preserve bone strength as you move into your autumn years.
But if that sounds great on paper, don’t start guzzling molasses by the cup just yet.
There are plenty of other sources for these valuable nutrients that are better for you overall. Molasses could serve as a *slightly* more nutritious alternative sweetener to white sugar. But it’s not healthy in the same sense as kale or lettuce.
Potassium helps you protect your heart health and fortify your blood vessels against strokes. And molasses is a surprisingly good source (31.1 percent of your DV is quite a chunk).
But again, this is only when compared to sugar. A banana is likely to do you more good than a spoonful of the sweet stuff.
Earlier research has linked molasses to higher levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, another potential boost to heart health. However, don’t get too excited — this study took place in 2005 using rats. In fact, a lot of research into the health benefits of molasses centers around its effects on animals for farming purposes.
For example, we know molasses is good for helping baby goats grow up big and healthy. But be pretty skeptical if someone prescribes it for your own kids — the science simply isn’t there to support its use in cholesterol management.
If you live with diabetes or have trouble managing your blood sugar levels, using sugar to control sugar might not be the best call. The doc or healthcare pro overseeing your diabetes treatment should be your first port of call.
But one 2016 randomized controlled trial compared healthy participants’ insulin response after eating 5 meals — one group ate meals prepared with a placebo syrup, while the other ate meals that contained a molasses concentrate. The molasses-munching group demonstrated lower insulin responses than the placebo group.
Yes, the findings are promising, and the study design is solid. But the molasses in this trial was a concentrate, so eating your standard supermarket molasses might not have the same effects. And the study didn’t test its effects on folks with diabetes, so the results might be markedly different.
Molasses is still added sugar in your diet, so exercise caution when including it in meals, especially if your blood sugar is usually hard to control.
Let’s end on one health benefit that is entirely positive. Back in 2009, a study found that molasses contains higher antioxidant content than sugar and other alternative sweeteners like honey. Antioxidants have links to plenty of health benefits, including:
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have spotted a theme running through our summary of molasses’ health benefits: it’s better for you than granulated sugar, but that’s not saying much.
While there have been no reports of severe side effects from molasses, consuming too much still carries some risks:
- Digestive problems, including diarrhea, might show up if you go overboard.
- Diabetes symptoms could get worse.
- Frequent sugar crashes might put a dent in your mood.
If you’re eating molasses in moderation, however, you should be fine.
Most store-bought molasses comes from sugar cane or sugar beet. Molasses-making folks boil that sh*t down to syrup. Once the sugar crystals separate, they leave behind a dark liquid. And that, friends, is the molasses.
The manufacturers repeat this boiling process three times. Each time produces a different type of molasses.
Boil 1: Light molasses
The first boil produces light molasses. This is the lightest and sweetest type — the one most commonly used in all types of cooking. From sauces and marinades to crusty bread and squidgy cookies, light molasses is a remarkably versatile ingredient.
Boil 2: Dark molasses
The second boil gets you dark molasses. It’s thicker and darker than light molasses, as well as being slightly less sweet and stronger in taste. The difference between light and dark molasses comes down to personal tastes. Dark molasses produces food with a richer flavor.
Wannabe bakers usually use dark molasses for gingerbread, but most cookies use the light stuff.
Boil 3: Blackstrap molasses
So what’s the difference between dark molasses and blackstrap molasses? Which is healthier?
Well, blackstrap molasses comes from the third and final boiling. It’s the thickest, darkest, and strongest in flavor. It also has a slight nutritional edge, retaining more vitamins and minerals than dark molasses.
However, the bitter taste of blackstrap molasses is too much for a lot of people. It’s way less sweet, meaning that most peeps use it in savory dishes. It’s best not to swap in blackstrap if the recipe calls for dark molasses unless you know what you’re doing.
Honorable mentions: Treacle and sorghum
You might see Mee-Maw’s old recipes calling for treacle and molasses interchangeably, but they’re very different nowadays. Modern treacle is a mix of molasses, syrup, and color additives. If you’ve got treacle in the closet, double-check your recipe and see if it’s suitable as a molasses alternative.
Sorghum, meanwhile, comes from cereal grain rather than sugar cane or beet. While it’s prepared in much the same way, molasses it definitely is not. If you do end up having to use sorghum as a substitute, throw in roughly half the amount the recipe calls for.
Unsulfured or sulfured molasses: What’s the difference?
Some manufacturers treat molasses with sulfur dioxide to give it longer shelf life. However, this preservative also leaves the product with a bitter taste. If you’re cooking sweeter stuff, make sure the molasses you’re using is unsulfured.
Here are three easy recipes using your new favorite sugar alternative. Sweets, savories, sides; this handy ingredient proves useful in some very surprising places.
Molasses and bacon baked beans
To make it happen:
- Immerse the beans in water and let them soak overnight.
- When it’s time to cook, boil the beans first.
- Using a sieve or strainer, separate the beans from the boiled water.
- Preheat your oven to 325°F (163°C).
- Put the beans, onion, and bacon into a pot and mix them up.
- Mix the molasses, brown sugar, salt, mustard, and pepper in with 1 cup of the boiled water; add this mixture to the pot and stir.
- Add more boiled water, just enough to nearly immerse the bean mixture.
- Cover the pot and bake for 4 tor 5 hours. Stir occasionally and add more water if needed until those beans are nice and tender.
Gigantic ginger cookies
Crisp, delicious cookies that are big enough to seriously satisfy.
The beauty lies in how easy these cookies are to make:
- Whisk up your flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
- Cream your butter, brown sugar, and regular sugar until they’re fluffy.
- Beat your molasses and egg into the cream.
- Stir in your whisked-up flour mixture.
- Flatten the contents of your bowl out into a disc and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (176°C).
- Split the dough into 20 balls, rolling each one in the remaining sugar.
- Put your sugary balls onto a baking sheet and flatten them out with the base of a glass.
- Stop laughing at “sugary balls.”
- Sprinkle a bit more sugar onto the cookies.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Put your cookies on a wire rack to cool.
Molasses brown bread
Try this with the beans — it’s a simple but tasty beginner’s bread recipe.
The whole process takes about 3 hours:
- Dissolve the sugar into the cup of warm water, then sprinkle it over the yeast and set it aside for 10 minutes.
- Mix up the molasses, rolled oats, butter, and salt.
- Add the cup of boiling water, whisk it up, then add the cup of cold water.
- After the 10 minutes is up, stir in your yeast mixture.
- Slowly add in your flour and knead the resulting dough.
- Split the dough in half between two well-greased bread pans.
- Cover each pan with a dishcloth, put them somewhere warm to rise for 90 minutes.
- Once the contents of each pan have nearly doubled in size, bake at 350°F (176°C) for an hour.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pans for 5 minutes.
If you’re trying to make little lifestyle changes here and there to cut down on sugar in your diet, molasses might be worth looking into.
But don’t get tricked into thinking it’s the next major health food, and don’t go overboard on those gigantic ginger cookies.