What do gingerbread, ginger snaps and baked beans have in common? (Nope, this isn’t the start of a bad joke.) Molasses. The sticky-sweet brown syrup is something of a kitchen hero: It makes cookies soft and chewy and cakes moist and aromatic; it adds a luxurious texture and color to savory dishes like meat glazes and barbecue sauces. You can add it to pancake and waffle batters, drizzle it over cornbread or biscuits and use it to flavor everything from beef stew to pecan pie. So why is it that whenever a recipe calls for molasses, it’s missing in action from our pantry? That’s why we set out to find the best substitute for molasses that we could swap in a pinch. These five genius substitutes are just as effective and can be made using ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
What Is Molasses?
Molasses (also known as black treacle in the U.K.) is a thick, darkly colored syrup that’s actually a byproduct of the sugar-making process. Sugar cane (or sugar beets) gets crushed, then the juice is extracted and boiled down to form sugar crystals. The crystals are removed from the liquid, and what’s left behind is molasses.
What's the Difference Between Light, Dark and Blackstrap Molasses?
If you’re wondering, What’s the deal with light, dark and blackstrap molasses?, they’re essentially the same product, but are produced at different stages of the sugar-making process. The sugar cane juice gets boiled multiple times, and each time, a different type of molasses is produced: Light molasses (sometimes labeled original, regular or mild) at the first boiling; dark molasses (aka robust, full or second) at the second boiling; and blackstrap molasses at the—you guessed it—third and final boiling.
Each variety has its own unique flavor and use, too. Light molasses is mildest in flavor and what most baking recipes mean when they call for molasses. It’s sweet and complementary, so it won’t overpower delicate flavors. Dark molasses is thicker and less sweet than light, with a much stronger flavor. Use it in savory recipes like baked beans or as a glaze for fatty meats. Blackstrap molasses is the most bitter of the three, and it’s not recommended in baking recipes or sweet dishes, but some cooks will use it in meat or barbecue recipes. (It also comes with purported health benefits because of its higher mineral content.)
What is Unsulfured Molasses?
But wait, there’s more! If you’ve ever seen molasses labeled as “unsulfured,” and wondered what that means, it’s just that the molasses hasn’t been treated with Sulfur dioxide as a preservative, which can make the final product taste chemical-y. Most molasses in the grocery store is unsulfured and has a cleaner flavor than the sulfured type.
The Best Substitutes for Molasses
Unless you’re baking gingerbread houses on the reg, you probably don’t have a jar of molasses waiting for you in the pantry. No worries: These five substitutes will work in an emergency. Just make sure you choose the best substitute for the type of recipe you’re making.
1. Granulated Sugar + Water
To replace 1 cup of molasses, combine ¾ cup granulated sugar and ¼ cup water. Consider increasing the spices in the recipe to account for the flavor molasses would add.
2. Brown Sugar
Since brown sugar (both dark and light) is just granulated sugar with a bit of molasses added into it, it is the closest substitute for molasses in terms of flavor. Use ¾ cup brown sugar as a substitute for 1 cup of molasses. (Again, your recipe might benefit from a little more in the spice department.)
3. Dark Corn Syrup
Dark corn syrup is corn syrup with added color and flavor, and it tastes similar to molasses. If you don’t mind that it’s more processed, 1 cup of dark corn syrup can replace molasses in equal amounts.
4. Maple Syrup
Use 1 cup of maple syrup in place of 1 cup of molasses—it doesn’t taste the exact same, but it has a similar consistency (and is less processed than dark corn syrup).
Like maple syrup, honey has a close enough consistency to molasses that it can be used as a substitute in a cup-for-cup ratio (1 cup honey for 1 cup molasses). But it also lacks that distinct molasses taste, so again, you might want to add more spices to whatever you’re making.
6 Ways to Use Molasses (or a Molasses Substitute)
’Tis the season for all things spicy and sweet, so...
- Start with caramel-stuffed gingerbread crinkle cookies
- Make the prettiest gingerbread lattice cookies ever
- Wash them all down with a gingerbread hot toddy
- Use it as a sweet condiment on yogurt biscuits
- Drizzle it in a bowl of homemade cinnamon applesauce
A Final (Genius) Tip for Baking and Cooking with Molasses
When measuring out molasses for a recipe, spray your measuring cup with cooking spray or run it under hot water to keep the syrup from sticking to the cup—easy peasy, right?