Blackstrap vs. Dark vs. Light Molasses: What’s the Difference?

It's dark, sticky and sweet, but each variety has a unique flavor profile. Make sure you know the difference between the types of molasses before you pick up a bottle at the store.

Molasses is one of those ingredients that signals cooler weather. It has a deep, rich flavor that’s as sweet as sugar but doesn’t leave you feeling quite as hyped up. We love using it in our coziest baking recipes, like ginger cookies or dessert cobblers, but it’s also great in savory recipes like glazed ham or baked beans. Dozens of recipes taste better with a drizzle of molasses, but this thick syrup varies in flavor, and some types are more intense than others. Let’s break it down.

First thing’s first: What is molasses?

Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar-making process. It all starts with crushing sugar cane to access the sweet juices inside. That juice is boiled until sugar crystals form—that’s the sugar we’ve all come to know and love. The thick syrup that’s left behind is molasses. The boiling process can be repeated multiple times, creating the different varieties of molasses. Each time the process is repeated, the molasses loses sugar content and gets darker and more earthy flavored.

Sulfured vs. unsulfured molasses

The best sugar cane is sun-ripened, allowing the sugars to come forward naturally. Molasses made from ripe sugar cane is called unsulfured molasses because it has no additives. If green, unripe sugarcane is used, it is treated with sulfur dioxide first to preserve it. It can leave a chemical taste in the mouth, so we recommend looking for unsulfured molasses whenever possible.

Types of molasses

When should you use dark molasses and when is blackstrap molasses better suited? Let’s break down the most common types of molasses so you can shop—and cook—with confidence. Also, if you were curious, this is the difference between light and dark brown sugar.

Light Molasses

After the first processing of sugar, you’re left with light molasses: The sweetest and lightest-colored type in the group. It’s the most popular type of molasses sold in the United States because it has the highest sugar content. It has a mild flavor and can be used as a substitute for maple syrup on pancakes, sugar in coffee or bake with it to make your favorite molasses cookie recipe.

Dark Molasses

If the molasses is boiled a second time, you end up with dark molasses. It’s darker and thicker the light variety, with a deeper, richer flavor that hints at bitterness. It’s not quite as sweet, but it’s also not as bitter as blackstrap molasses. It’s a good option for people looking for a sweetener with reduced sugar content, and it makes an incredible gingerbread.

Blackstrap Molasses

The third and last boiling of molasses results in the deepest, darkest, most bitter version of molasses: blackstrap molasses. It’s sometimes referred to as the healthiest molasses because it contains a ton of vitamins and minerals, including iron, manganese, copper, calcium and potassium. It also has a lower glycemic value because most of the sugar was extracted during the triple processing. It’s strong and bitter, but it’s great for savory cooking like baked beans.

Bead Molasses

Bead molasses is hard to find, but it’s an essential ingredient in chop suey and other Asian dishes. It’s made from the scrapings off the bottom of the pan used to boil molasses and has a similar flavor to light molasses.

Sorghum Molasses

Technically, sorghum molasses isn’t really molasses because it doesn’t start with sugar cane. The stalk of the sorghum plant is crushed and boiled—just like with molasses. It tends to be lighter and thinner than regular molasses, but it’s intensely sweet with a hint of sourness. Give it a try in your favorite recipe, or use it as a drizzle to top biscuits, cornbread or desserts.

Pomegranate Molasses

This is another one that’s not technically molasses: Pomegranate molasses is made from boiled pomegranate juice. It tastes more like real balsamic vinegar than molasses, with a tangy edge and a complex flavor. It’s not a good substitute for baking recipes, but it makes incredible marinades and dressings. Try adding these other secret pantry ingredients that make your recipes better to your food the next time you cook.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."