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Molasses is most commonly used in baking as a sweetening and flavoring agent. There are several possible products you can use as a substitution for molasses, particularly brown sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, or honey. The occasion might also arise that you need to substitute one type of molasses for another, which is also acceptable in most cases. Choosing the best substitution for molasses depends somewhat on the nature of the recipe and your personal desire for the presence of the unique flavor of molasses in your dish.
Recipes call for molasses for its properties as a thick liquid and a sweetener. Therefore, it is important to mimic these characteristics the best that you can when you employ a substitution for molasses in baking. If you want to use a natural sweetener, both honey and maple syrup can be substituted for molasses in equal proportions. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup (237 ml) of molasses you can substitute 1 cup (237 ml) of either honey or maple syrup. Another possible liquid substitution for molasses is an equal proportion of dark corn syrup; dark corn syrup, while derived from corn, is a bit more processed than honey or maple syrup, but works just as well.
When you use a substitution for molasses, you should be aware of how each possible replacement ingredient might alter the flavor of your recipe. Honey and maple syrup both have distinct flavors that might shine through in your dishes; this is not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware that these products do not taste the same as molasses. If you do not want to risk the flavors of honey or maple syrup penetrating your recipe, corn syrup is a fairly safe substitution for molasses. The corn syrup will not lend the same distinct molasses taste, but will help out with consistency and sweetness.
Possibly the best substitution for molasses to retain similar flavor is brown sugar. A measurement of 1 cup (237 ml) of molasses can be replaced with ¾ cup (177 ml) of packed brown sugar. Since molasses is an ingredient in brown sugar, the resulting dish will be more true to the original recipe than one that uses the liquid sweeteners described above. The substitution should be adequate for most recipes, but be prepared to add a small amount of extra liquid if the consistency is too dry, because you did not use a liquid sweetener.
Different flavors of molasses can usually be interchanged for one another. For example, if your recipe calls for light molasses and you only have dark molasses on hand, you can most likely get away with substituting; the only possible differences might be a slightly darker color and more noticeable molasses flavor. It is not usually advisable to substitute blackstrap molasses, the darkest and least sweet variety available, for either light or dark molasses, however, because it will probably not offer enough sweetness and the intense molasses flavor might be overpowering.