Blackstrap molasses is one of the varieties of molasses and shares many qualities with the other types but has significant differences. You will need to understand the similarities and differences when deciding which kind of molasses you need. The SPICEography Showdown below will explain how blackstrap molasses compares to what is sometimes called true molasses.
How does blackstrap molasses differ from molasses?
The first key difference between blackstrap molasses and molasses is the stage of the sugar-making process from which it comes. The molasses used in cooking and baking is made while processing sugarcane to make sugar. Blackstrap molasses is what is left of boiled sugarcane juice at the end of the sugar extraction process. It remains after the third time the sugarcane juice is boiled. It is highly concentrated and caramelized sugarcane juice from which all the extractable sugar has been removed.
Molasses comes from earlier stages in the process. The sugarcane juice is boiled so that the water content evaporates, turning the juice into cane syrup and eventually causing its sucrose to crystalize. The sucrose crystals are removed and what is left is molasses. This molasses is called light molasses. After being boiled a second time, more sucrose crystallizes and is removed. The molasses left after the second boiling is dark molasses.
Blackstrap molasses has a different appearance from molasses. Blackstrap has a very dark brown color and is almost black. Light molasses is a dark amber color. Dark molasses is darker than light molasses but not as dark as blackstrap molasses. The consistencies of the three differ as well, with blackstrap being the thickest, light molasses being relatively thin and dark molasses falling somewhere between the two.
The blackstrap molasses flavor is different. Blackstrap molasses has been cooked the longest, which means that it is the most heavily caramelized of the three. It is concentrated since much of its water has been evaporated, and it has also had more of its sugar removed. The result is a strong, bitter flavor.
Light molasses has undergone the least caramelization and retains more of its sugar than the other varieties. Dark molasses has a deeper caramel flavor and moderate bitterness, but it still has some sugar and the ability to sweeten.
Blackstrap molasses is not as nutritious as many claim it to be; however, it does contain more nutrients than light or dark molasses.
Can you use blackstrap molasses as a substitute for molasses and vice versa?
Blackstrap molasses can substitute for molasses in a few applications, but you will have to be careful when using it. The fact that it is far more flavorful and not as sweet means that it is best suited for savory applications. You will also have to use less of it to avoid making food too bitter or giving it an excessively dark color. Depending on the dish, you may need to add extra liquid and/or a sweetener.
Molasses is a good blackstrap molasses substitute in most applications with dark molasses being a closer match in terms of appearance and flavor.
When should you use blackstrap molasses, and when should you use molasses?
Use small amounts of blackstrap molasses in savory dishes. It can give baked beans and barbecue sauces a deep caramel flavor and dark color without too much sweetness. You can also add sugar if you need to cut or mask the bitterness. Molasses will bring a similar caramel flavor to the same dishes and baked goods, but it includes added sugar and is not as bitter as blackstrap.