Blackstrap molasses is a dark, viscous liquid that is a byproduct of table sugar production from either beets or raw sugarcane. It is usually the darkest molasses available, but it is also the most nutritious when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Many people use it as a sweetener, though it does have a somewhat bittersweet flavor on its own. It's often more palatable when used in baking or as a topping for things like cereal and porridge.
Blackstrap, like all varieties of molasses, is created when sugarcane or sugar beets are boiled down into a syrup. Commercial sugar manufacturers are most interested in the sugar crystals that form as the boiled liquid cools — these are isolated and processed into the granulated sugar popular around the world. The crystals aren’t the only thing that comes out of the boiling, however. When the residue is collected and strained, it forms molasses.
Making blackstrap molasses usually takes a bit of extra effort. The syrup compound must usually be boiled three times before the end result will qualify as “blackstrap.” In most cases, the syrup couldn’t be boiled any more without solidifying, making this molasses sort of a “final stop.”
Difference Between Blackstrap and Other Molasses
There are many reasons why manufacturers will undertake three separate boiling sessions, but taste and consistency are usually high on the list. Molasses that is stopped after the first boiling is usually the sweetest, and also the lightest in color. This sometimes leads to its being sold under the “light” name, a title that refers to its appearance more than its nutritional or caloric profile. It has the highest sugar content of any molasses, which means that it will spoil more easily. As a result, the chemical preservative sulfur is often added to enhance its shelf life.
Molasses collected after a second boiling is usually a bit deeper in color and has a more intense flavor. Most products sold as “full flavor” or “traditional” are from the second boiling. These versions have less sugar than “light” versions, but more than blackstrap. Blackstrap is the darkest and bitterest of all. It has the lowest sugar content, but the highest amounts of nutrients like iron and calcium. As the syrup grows ever more concentrated, the essential minerals that were originally present in the cane or beet become more and more pronounced.
Uses as a Sweetener
Blackstrap molasses makes a good substitute for more sugary sweeteners like syrup, particularly when used in small quantities. People often add it to oatmeal or other hot cereals, and they may also drizzle it over baked desserts or ice cream. Cooks may also use it to add a slight sugary kick to more savory dishes, like stir fries or baked fish or meats. It has a subtle sweetness that pairs well with a variety of different flavors.
Popularity in Baking
Many people use blackstrap in cookies, breads, and other baked goods. It adds a rich texture and flavor without making the end result overly sweet. Using it in traditional gingerbread adds a deep, often smoky flavor, for instance, and molasses cookies tend to be chewier and denser when made with blackstrap as opposed to other varieties. It is often used in conjunction with regular sugar, but it doesn’t have to be.
A number of health and medical experts recommend incorporating blackstrap molasses into the diet as a way of improving overall nutrition. It can be a good way to reduce overall sugar intake, for one thing, but it also has a number of important vitamins and minerals on its own. It is an excellent source of both iron and calcium — two elements that are essential for human growth and development — and also contains very high concentrations of both magnesium and potassium. Vitamin B6 and selenium are also found in it.
Some experts, particularly those practicing holistic medicine, recommend consuming small amounts of blackstrap on a regular basis as a way of improving health, mental focus, and general body balance. Few scientific studies have been conducted on whether or not regular use has any long-term health benefits, but this has not stopped many people from at least giving it a chance.