The Story of Molasses: Sugar's Not-So-Ugly Stepsibling

gingerbread men key ingredient, molasses!

Written by: Serena Chang

Nothing screams holiday festivities like gingerbread. It’s perfect for eating, designing your dream home and working off those heavy holiday meals while you run, run as fast as you can to catch the gingerbread man. Here at Pulp Pantry, we love gingerbread a little extra because of one of its core ingredients: molasses.

A Brief History of Sugar and Molasses:

The origin of sugar usage goes way back (BCE way back!). It is thought that sugarcane was first cultivated in Polynesia and then spread to India, where it was picked up by Emperor Darius of Persia, then adopted and expanded by early Arabic Empires. The crusades introduced Europe to sugar, but it didn’t really start taking off until the colonial age, where it thrived on Caribbean plantations.

Back then, white refined sugar was a luxury. Everyone wanted it, but only the wealthy could afford it. Instead, everyone else used molasses. Back then, it was used as an everyday ingredient. Excess molasses was distilled and the pirate’s drink of choice, rum, was created. Sugar, molasses, and rum were so in demand that the Molasses Act of 1733 and the Sugar Act of 1764 were enacted, placing tariffs on sugar and molasses imports from non-English countries so British plantation owners could continue to monopolize the market. Today, however, because refined sugar is so readily available and inexpensive, molasses is no longer as commonplace as it once was. Instead, sugar remains in the spotlight and molasses is relegated to ugly stepsibling status, reserved only for special holiday treats.

But, what is molasses?

Those who bake (or those who ride horses —where you'll often find it in horse treats) have probably encountered molasses at one point or another. But what is it, exactly?

The answer: molasses is a byproduct of refining sugar.

Here's how the process of making molasses works:

1. Sugar cane is ground or crushed to create a liquid.

2. That liquid is then boiled and spun in a centrifuge to extract sugar crystals and make refined or granulated sugar. 

3. This process strips the outer coating away from the crystals. This outer coating that's left after boiling and centrifuging is molasses! 

Fun fact: The different varieties of molasses (i.e. light, dark, or blackstrap) and ranges of refined sugar comes from the number of times the sugar is sent through the centrifuge.

However, though molasses is a byproduct produced in the creation of conventional sugar, it’s far from waste —it’s actually more nutritionally dense than sugar and plenty tasty. In the centrifuging process that separates crystal sugar and molasses, the beneficial vitamins and minerals found in sugarcane are stripped out from the sugar. And where do all those good-for-you vitamins and minerals go? You got it —to the molasses. These vitamins and minerals include iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium and vitamin B6. Who’s the ugly stepsibling now?  

Yes, if you didn’t already realize, we LOVE molasses here at Pulp Pantry. We love the rich, sweet, and slightly bitter taste it brings to our Gingerbread Cookie Granola and Baking Mixes. But most of all, we love that our recipe keeps a nutritious byproduct from going to waste! We love that it can add some nutrients to our snacks while satiating our sweet tooth.

Are you inspired to use molasses beyond the holidays? What kinds of recipes are you interested in seeing with molasses? Let us know in the comments below!