Molasses is a thick, brown to deep black, honey-like substance made when cane or beet sugar is processed. It is enjoyed as a sweetener in many countries, and most particularly in England where it is called treacle. For hundreds of years, molasses and sulfur, or treacle and brimstone were thought to have healthful benefits, and children were frequently given doses of the product.
The constipating or sometimes laxative effect of brimstone and treacle could be misused to keep appetites down. Charles Dickens makes mention of its application in Nicholas Nickleby, where the starving students of Mr. Wackford Squeers’ school are frequently dosed with such to cut down on their porridge consumption.
Molasses had a somewhat unsavory history during Prohibition in the US. It is the primary base for the manufacture of rum. Molasses importation became synonymous with the bootlegging industry and with organized crime.
Today, uses for molasses are quite benign. It is used primarily in baking. No gingerbread would be quite the same without the addition of molasses. Some people enjoy using it on hot cereals like cream of wheat or cornmeal mush.
Molasses is also a necessary ingredient in the Thanksgiving holiday traditional pumpkin pie. In England, treacle tart, is not, however, made with molasses, but it is enjoyed as a sweetener on porridge. Homemade caramel corn is especially good with a dollop of molasses added to the sugar mixture.
Molasses has somewhat more nutritional value than does white or brown sugar. The process by which it is extracted and treated with sulfur results in fortification of iron, calcium and magnesium. Some natural health food experts still advocate its use for ailments of the stomach.
Concerns about sulfur, however, have led to many brands of molasses that are sulfur-free. These are widely available in both natural food and chain grocery stores.
Calories in molasses are approximately the same as sugar, about 16 calories per teaspoon (5 ml). However it only contains about half the sucrose as sugar. It is also made up of both glucose and fructose. Though it is high in iron, it is also high in calcium, which tends to prevent iron from being absorbed by the body. Thus its benefits as a mineral supplement may be a bit overrated.
As a sweetener, many enjoy its hearty sweet flavor that has a bit of a sharp finish on the tongue. Certainly as a baking agent its combination of sweet and tangy result in delicious baked results.