If you live in the south, you've most definitely heard of this bittersweet syrup made as a by-product of sugar production. Producers extract molasses from the sugarcane plant, but is it entirely plant-based? Learn more below to find out why not every brand of molasses may be vegan-friendly.
Molasses makes some deliciously rich, spiced gingerbread, but this bittersweet syrup is so much more than that.
You can use molasses to make both the sweet and savory, from smoothies to BBQ sauce, and better yet, it provides plenty of minerals that are extra-essential to a vegan diet, like iron and calcium.
But is this plant-based syrup vegan? It turns out, not always, primarily due to the way that sugar mills process their products.
Learn more below about the molasses-making process and how to determine which brands are vegan-friendly and which are not!
What is molasses?
Molasses is a dark, thick syrup that's a by-product of the sugar milling process, most commonly sourced from sugarcane, but occasionally beets and grapes. In southern states, some also call sweet sorghum "molasses," or treacle in the UK.
Molasses comes in several different varieties, but the most popular is blackstrap molasses, which contains the highest mineral concentration and is very dark in color, earning it the name "blackstrap," or in Dutch, "black syrup."
In the past, people knew blackstrap molasses as a cure-all for conditions like arthritis, constipation, and menstrual issues. Still, there isn't any concrete or scientific evidence to back these claims up - just old wives' tales passed down by generations. Still, there are plenty of reasons to eat it!
How is molasses made?
Making molasses syrup is what Bob Ross would call a "happy accident," as it's a by-product created in the sugar milling process.
The first step in sugar cane processing is to remove the sugar cane juice from the plant's pulp. After producers extract the sugarcane juice, it's boiled three times to crystallize the sugar and make it easy to separate it from the liquid - the leftover juice is molasses!
During the 3-step boiling process:
- The first boil produces light molasses or cane syrup, a golden, sweet syrup.
- The second boil produces thicker, richer, and slightly less sweet dark molasses.
- The third boil makes blackstrap molasses, an almost black, rich, and incredibly thick, slightly bitter syrup.
Is molasses good for you?
Sugarcane juice, unsurprisingly, is very high in sucrose and should be consumed less often, in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Molasses nutrition is much better for you than traditional table sugar, as it loses much of its sucrose during the milling process.
Unlike most other food, the more processed the molasses, the more healthy it is for you. That's because, with every boil, more sugar leaves through the extraction process, but many of the nutrients remain and become more concentrated in the liquid sweetener. You'll find plenty of iron in molasses, which can be a tough find in a vegan diet.
Blackstrap molasses created by the third boiling may contain up to 40% less sucrose than dark molasses, which only boils twice.
A few more of our favorite blackstrap molasses benefits:
- One tablespoon contains 20% of our daily calcium needs;
- Contains 2.4 mg of essential mineral iron in each serving, up to 30% of RDI;
- High in magnesium (around 30% of RDI) to aid nervous system function;
- Also contains some potassium, copper, vitamin B6, and selenium.
- Molasses is lower on the glycemic index than table sugar so it won't spike blood sugar levels as much.
As you can see, there is plenty to gain from the health benefits of molasses that other sweeteners like sugar, honey, and even maple syrup can't offer.
Is molasses vegan?
Does molasses have dairy? Though it's thick and rich, molasses contains no dairy at all.
But is it vegan? Sugarcane and sugar beets are plant-based, but there is still some grey area on whether we can consider them vegan sweeteners.
That's because much white sugar made in America isn't vegan, either, often processed with bone char for filtration and bleaching purposes. Though the bone char is removed from the sugar before it reaches the market, it is technically still processed using animal exploitation.
Producers remove molasses from the sugar before the bone char comes into play, for the most part.
Though molasses contains no animal products, it's still a by-product of a production process that exploits animals, so any molasses made by a facility that uses bone char may be considered non-vegan.
Some vegans stay away from bone-char processed sugar, while others don't. In the Vegan Society's definition of veganism, vegans are to avoid animal exploitation as much as "possible and practicable," so everyone can draw their own line about certain grey area foods, like molasses.
In excellent news, the sugar industry is rapidly moving away from the use of bone char, so vegans won't even have to make these considerations very soon.
Meanwhile, you can find light, dark, and blackstrap molasses in organic options, which are always vegan. Producers cannot use bone char to make certified-organic sugar, so you can guarantee the organic molasses by-product is vegan syrup, too.
Final Notes: Vegan Molasses Uses
Though a sugar product, molasses behaves a little differently than sugar, making a direct substitution difficult. It's not an excellent honey substitute either, as it's not quite sweet enough.
The strong, slightly bitter taste of molasses can significantly affect a recipe, so it's best to save molasses for recipes that specifically call for the ingredient. You'll also want to ensure if a recipe calls for light molasses, you don't substitute for blackstrap instead - each variety of molasses is unique, and using a different type will throw things off for the worse.
If you're looking to include some molasses into your diet for an extra boost of nutrients and blackstrap molasses iron, try adding it to baked goods, like muffins, gingerbread, spice cookies, and cake. The flavors tend to pair very well with raisins, cinnamon, and nuts like almonds or pecans.
Blackstrap molasses is also delicious in smoothies, BBQ sauce, a glaze for roasted vegetables, dressing, and oatmeal.
There are plenty of tasty ways to enjoy this healthy and often vegan syrup in both sweet and savory dishes!