Black treacle is a dark, thick syrup that is a byproduct of refining sugar. It is a product of the U.K. and considered to be the British equivalent of molasses, appearing in many of the country's signature food recipes. Black treacle is used in sweets such as toffee, cakes, puddings, and even some drinks.
What Is Black Treacle?
Before the 17th century, treacle was used in medicine—the name stems from this use in Middle English. It was thought to be an antidote for poison and snakebites, among other ailments. It's made with the uncrystallized syrup that remains after sugar is refined.
Black treacle is a thick, dark, sugar syrup containing sugarcane molasses to create a somewhat bitter flavor. The term "treacle" is used generally to describe uncrystallized syrup in Brittain and typically refers to the dark syrup. However, "light treacle" has been adopted when referring to golden syrup, another staple in British cooking. It's also a product of sugar refining, has a honey-like color and is much sweeter than black treacle. Both syrups are famously made by the Tate & Lyle company, the biggest producer and easiest brand to find. They can be used directly out of the tin and tend to be more expensive than other syrups.
Black Treacle vs. Molasses
Black treacle is often the British counterpart to North America's molasses. The two are similar in color and viscosity and used in the same way. Black treacle is a blend of cane molasses and invert sugar syrup. Though it's similar to pure molasses, black treacle is generally described as a slightly burnt, bitter version of molasses. Interestingly, many dictionary entries for black treacle simply list "molasses" as one of the entries.
Black Treacle Uses
In the early 1800s, treacle was used as a meat preservative in a similar manner to salt preservation. Today, it's primarily a liquid sweetener, used in baked goods, desserts, and sweet sauces. You can also add it to glazes and marinades for fish or meat. Some people use it to brew beer or mix it into drinks such as tea or cocktails like the traditional "mahogany" (two parts Plymouth Gin, one part black treacle).
How to Cook With Black Treacle
Black treacle is used directly out of the tin and added to the recipe. It contributes a darker color and moisture to the finished dish, as well as its rich, smoky flavor. There are recipes that balance out the flavor by using both black treacle and golden syrup.
It can be easiest to remove black treacle from the tin using a spoon rather than pouring it. Gently warming the tin in hot water can make it easier to pour. When measuring black treacle, coat the measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray or oil. The thick syrup should slip right off and ensure accurate measuring since it will leave no traces behind.
What Does It Taste Like?
Black treacle has a deep flavor that's rich, slightly burnt, and has a hint of bitterness. It is sticky and thick, just like molasses.
Black Treacle Substitute
Molasses and treacle are similar products, though the flavor is slightly different. In the majority of cases, molasses and black treacle can be used interchangeably, particularly if you don't like the bitter taste that black treacle imparts. For a closer substitute, you can use blackstrap molasses. Its dark, bitter flavor will be closer in taste, but it is stronger so you might want to use a little less. Some people, however, strongly advise against that because blackstrap is pungent and would use dark molasses instead.
Black Treacle Recipes
Black treacle is commonly used in baked goods like dark bread, cakes, scones, and tarts. Parkin is the Yorkshire version of gingerbread and black treacle is an essential ingredient. Steamed puddings, beverages, sauces, toffee, fudge, and cheesecakes can all include black treacle.
Where to Buy Black Treacle
The availability of black treacle will depend on where you live. It is as common in U.K. grocery stores as molasses is in the U.S., and should be in the baking aisle. Specialty shops in other countries, including the U.S., may stock it, or you can buy it online. Lyle's Black Treacle is the best-known and most widely distributed. The 454-gram metal tins with their red and gold colors are easy to spot, though the price is higher than other types of cooking syrup.
Black treacle should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place in the pantry or cupboard. Many tins will include an expiration date. When stored properly, though, you can likely go up to a year beyond that. Be sure to wipe the rim clean before securing the lid so it's easier to remove next time you need it.