Molasses 101


By John Kessler

Indeed, we use molasses primarily for vintage recipes. Think baked beans, shoofly pie, and gingersnaps. Just remember that Grandma was young once, and molasses must have been the salted caramel of her day—sweet and appealingly bitter, with a racy complexity. From cookies to bread, this thick amber liquid gives extra depth to baked goods. Consider it the liquid gold of your winter pantry.

Photography by Stephen DeVries

What It Is

Molasses is the by-product of refining sugar cane or beets. After the pure sucrose is extracted, the golden syrup remains.

Grades of Molasses


Pours like corn syrup, flickers gold when the light catches it, and is more sweet than bitter. Good as a cane syrup substitute and for baking. (Also labeled: “sweet,” “original,” or “mild”)


Viscous like honey but much darker. It is less sweet, more bitter, and peppery in a way that works well with spices—ideal for baking. (Also labeled: “full flavor” or simply “molasses”)


The darkest and most bitter grade of molasses; often used as a nutritional supplement and home remedy for joint pain. You can bake with it (it adds a lot of color) but you’ll need to add more sugar to the recipe. 

Syrupy Alternatives

Maple Syrup: The boiled-down essence of maple tree sap; rich and distinctive. 

Cane Syrup: Pressed and reduced sugar cane juice; sweet and bright. 

Sorghum Syrup: The syrup from pressed sweet sorghum, a reed that grows in the Southeastern United States; buttery and grassy.


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