Lay it on thick
Don’t call blackstrap molasses the new apple cider vinegar—people have been singing the praises of this healthful syrup for decades.
“Blackstrap molasses and the wheat germ bread/Makes you live so long you wish you were dead.”
Actor and comedian Danny Kaye sang these lyrics with Groucho Marx, Jane Wyman and Jimmy Durante on a 1951 record. More than 60 years later, we acknowledge that although exaggerated, the song’s sentiment might not be far off from the truth.
Molasses is made through the sugar production process: The juice from sugarcane plants is boiled to create crystals that are then processed and sold as refined white sugar. The liquid, which at that stage has become cane syrup, is boiled two more times, resulting in a dark, viscous syrup called blackstrap molasses.
Blackstrap molasses is relatively low in calories (about 60 per tablespoon) and sugar content (about 12 grams) when compared with other sugary superfoods like honey. Because of this, its taste is more smoky than sweet. Perhaps more remarkable is its high levels of vitamins and minerals, including blood-building iron (2 mg, or 12 percent of the daily recommended value), bone-building calcium (150 mg; 12 percent DV) and potassium (380 mg; 8 percent DV), which helps regulate blood pressure, among other benefits. It’s also a source of vitamin B6, which promotes blood health and prevents anemia.
Its mineral-rich nutritional content, especially iron, may make it beneficial as a pre-natal supplement: A tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in hot water is often referred to as “pregnancy tea.” (Talk to your doctor first.) Blackstrap molasses also was highlighted in an article about plant-based foods that may prevent cancer. The study, published in the Journal of Carcinogenesis, noted evidence that “cancer was very rare among sugarcane plantation workers who were regularly consuming the raw brown sugar,” citing the syrup’s high levels of minerals and vitamin B as a potential explanation.
Some holistic practitioners also claim it can ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and enhance skin and hair health, thanks to its antioxidant-rich content.
Available at most health food stores, blackstrap molasses is sold as both unsulphured and sulphured options. Unsulphured molasses is made from a more mature sugarcane crop and is preferred. Because of its intense, thick flavor, blackstrap molasses should not be used in recipes that call simply for “molasses,” which is the result of the second boil of the sugarproduction process and isn’t as dark or thick. But the unique flavor of blackstrap molasses can be used to give a smoky boost to meats and some spicy sweet foods, like pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies. Finally, it can be used as an ingredient for dark breads or, for home brewers, in stouts and porters.