How to Make Molasses

How to Make Molasses (Image: bhofack2/iStock/GettyImages)

Molasses was used extensively in the United States until the advent of refined white sugar in the 20th century. The molasses you see at your supermarket is made from sugar cane as a byproduct of the commercial sugar-refining process and has its own bittersweet flavor profile. Can you substitute honey for molasses or other syrups? You can try, but the result won't be the same.

Types of Sugarcane Molasses

There are several stages of extracting sugar from sugar cane, during which the cane is boiled down and sugar solidifies and is removed, thus leaving the syrup. Molasses is derived from first, second or third boilings.

  • Light molasses comes from the first boiling. It's the mildest and sweetest since the thin syrup retains a high sugar content.
  • The dark molasses derived from the second boiling is less sweet, darker and thicker.
  • Blackstrap molasses comes from the third boiling. It's darker and thicker, and due to its lack of sugar residue, it is more bitter. At the same time, it has the highest nutritional value

What's the difference between blackstrap molasses and fancy molasses? "Fancy molasses" is a term (standardized in Canada) for pure sugar cane juice converted to syrup. It's lighter and sweeter but lacks blackstrap's high iron and calcium content.

Sugar Cane vs. Sorghum

While it's possible to make sugar cane molasses at home, it's a tough proposition. To begin with, you must have access to fresh sugar cane juice. This means you'll most likely be growing your own crop, and sugar cane only grows in tropical or subtropical climates. You must also have the space, time and desire to do this labor-intensive job.

Sorghum, on the other hand, can be grown successfully in many regions of the United States. The syrup-making process is similar to that for the "real" molasses made from sugar cane and also requires hard work and determination.

How to Make Molasses From Sorghum

One 100-foot row of sorghum yields about 1 gallon of syrup. Cane stalks are harvested and stripped of their leaves, and their juice is extracted. There are heavy-duty juice extractors available to accomplish this task, but they're expensive. Some sorghum farmers use an old-fashioned clothes wringer, so you might want to check out country auctions or flea markets.

The juice must be filtered and then cooked on a slow boil for several hours. Many home sorghum makers cook their syrup over a wood fire, but if you're making a very small batch, you could use your kitchen range. Note that the juice-to-syrup ratio is 10 to 1.

Stir the liquid as it cooks down since the sugar content could burn if left alone for too long. If a greenish film or foam forms on top, skim it off and continue cooking. When the syrup reaches the desired consistency, you've made yourself a batch of sorghum molasses (and you're probably ready for a nap).

How to Make Molasses With Sugar Beets

For an easier alternative, you could try making a form of molasses using sugar beets. Cut the beets into thin slices or fine dice them. Place them in a saucepan with water to cover them.

Cook on medium heat until the beets are tender. Then, drain the liquid into another saucepan and boil it until it reaches the desired consistency.

Sugar beets are available at most supermarkets, making juice from them is easier and the whole procedure is less laborious. Even so, sugar-beet molasses is not for all tastes, as it can be quite bitter.

How to Make Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate molasses isn't true molasses, but the technique for making this popular syrup is essentially the same. In order to seed and juice a pomegranate, you'll need to separate all those jewel-like seeds from the white pith surrounding them. First, shear off the top of the fruit, revealing the seeds and pith. Using a sharp knife, lightly cut down the sides along the pith lines and break the fruit into large pieces.

There's a trick to the next step, which is separating the seeds from each other and from the pith. Put the chunks of pomegranate into a bowl and cover with water. Gently ease the pith away, leaving the seeds to fall to the bottom of the bowl. The pith will rise to the top, and you can easily remove it.

Rinse and drain the seeds, picking off any little bits of pith that might remain. Juice the pomegranates in a blender and then strain the liquid through cheesecloth. Boil this liquid down until it achieves the desired consistency. The molasses thus prepared will have a sweet/sour flavor that will add a refreshing piquancy to your dishes.

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