Blackstrap molasses is just one type of molasses, the dark liquid byproduct of the process of refining sugar cane into table sugar. It is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is therefore the concentrated byproduct left over after the sugar's sucrose has been crystallized.
The truth behind the phrase "slow as molasses" becomes apparent when you reflect on molasses's thick, viscous, syrupy texture. Featuring a robust bittersweet flavor, blackstrap molasses helps create the distinctive taste of dishes such as baked beans and gingerbread. Blackstrap molasses is very dark in color, having a black-brown hue.
Molasses has been imported into the United States from the Caribbean Islands since the time of the early colonists. In fact, it was the most popular sweetener used until the late 19th century since it was much more affordable than refined sugar, which was very expensive at that time.
In some respects, molasses has had a rather sticky history with at least two important historical events centering around this sweet food product. The first is the Molasses Act of 1733, a tariff passed by England to try to discourage the colonists from trading with areas of the West Indies that were not under British rule. This legislation is thought to be one of the events that catalyzed pre-revolutionary colonial dissent and unrest.
And while it is not often that a fateful tragedy can center around a food, unfortunately, in 1919, one such event did occur and it involved molasses. The event is referred to as the Great Molasses Flood and occurred when a molasses storage tank holding over two million gallons of molasses broke, and its sticky content came pouring throughout the city streets of Boston, Massachusetts, traveling as fast as 35 miles per hour and creating a thirty foot tidal wave of sweetener. Unfortunately, this twenty-one people died and significant amounts of property were destroyed.
Blackstrap molasses gained in popularity in the mid-20th century with the advent of the health food movement. Today, the largest producers of molasses are India, Brazil, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and the United States.
Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that is actually good for you. Unlike refined white sugar and corn syrup, which are stripped of virtually all nutrients except simple carbohydrates, or artificial sweeteners like saccharine or aspartame, which not only provide no useful nutrients but have been shown to cause health problems in sensitive individuals, blackstrap molasses is a healthful sweetener that contains significant amounts of a variety of minerals that promote your health. The nutrients in which it is concentrated include manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium.
Look for blackstrap molasses that is unsulphured since not only does it not contain this processing chemical to which some people are sensitive, but it has a cleaner and more clarified taste. Blackstrap molasses made from organic sugar cane is also available in some markets.
Molasses should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. Unopened containers should keep for about one year, while opened containers should keep for about six months.
Here are some of our favorite ways of weaving blackstrap molasses into our Healthiest Way of Eating.