Molasses Substitutions, Tips, and Hints

Nothing replaces the real thing, but you can improvise in a pinch.

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Culinary molasses comes from crushed sugarcane, a by-product of the first pressing of cane syrup. As the liquid boils away, raw sugar crystals begin to form. They get sent for a spin in a centrifuge, which flings any remaining liquid off. This becomes the first molasses. You may also see it in the store as light, mild, or sweet molasses.

Producers put the molasses through the crystallization process two more times to extract the most sucrose possible.

The second molasses may also be called dark, full, or robust. The resulting thicker syrup tastes less sweet; its stronger flavor comes with a hint of bitterness. The third and final molasses gets marketed as blackstrap molasses. It contains the most vitamins and minerals, but comes with a robust flavor and definite bitterness.

Brown sugar contains molasses, giving it a distinctive flavor; dark brown sugar contains a higher concentration of molasses than light brown sugar. Molasses adds a rich, sweet but slightly burnt flavor to baked goods and dishes such as baked beans.

Cooking With Molasses

Molasses contains calcium, which retards softening in some foods, particularly beans. Baked beans with molasses as a flavoring cook much more slowly than beans without it. On the bright side, the calcium in the molasses helps the beans retain their shape. Molasses adds moisture and dimensional flavor to baked goods such as gingerbread.

Substituting for Molasses

Nothing quite replaces real molasses, but if you find yourself without, you can make some reasonable substitutions. On the other hand, some substitutions you definitely do not want to attempt. 

  • Dark treacle can be substituted for molasses in recipes. Use equal measures—if the recipe calls for 1/4 cup molasses, use 1/4 cup dark treacle. 
  • Do not substitute blackstrap molasses for light or dark molasses. The resulting flavor may overpower the recipe. Only use blackstrap molasses if a recipe specifically calls for it.
  • Although you can interchange light and dark molasses in recipes, using the dark version intensifies the flavor and slightly darkens the resulting product. Dark molasses works well in gingerbread, baked beans and darker bread such as pumpernickel.
  • Dark corn syrup works in place of molasses as a one-to-one substitution, but with less depth of flavor and a more simplistic sweetness.
  • You can substitute 3/4 cup of granulated white sugar plus 1/4 cup of water for 1 cup of molasses in baking, but increase the spices to compensate for the loss of the molasses flavor. You can also replace 1 cup of molasses with 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar to retain the molasses flavor. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients per 1 cup of molasses when you substitute refined sugar for molasses.

Measuring Molasses

A 12-fluid-ounce jar of molasses contains approximately 24 tablespoons or 1 1/2 cups. Measure molasses by volume in a liquid measuring cup. Lightly spray the measuring cup with vegetable oil before measuring molasses so it slips out more easily.

Molasses Tips and Hints

  • Baked goods using a lot of molasses tend to darken more quickly. Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees to compensate.
  • Naturally acidic molasses may require the addition of baking soda to counteract it in some baked goods.
  • You can purchase either sulphured or unsulphured molasses. Sulphur acts as a preservative, but it leaches the sweetness and can leave a faint chemical-like aftertaste. Even unsulphured molasses lasts for several years in the pantry.