Dark corn syrup and molasses are often considered interchangeable. Dark corn syrup contains molasses and has some of the same properties, but are they really all that similar? Let’s explore what these sweeteners have in common in the SPICEography Showdown.
How does dark corn syrup differ from molasses?
Dark corn syrup and molasses come from different sources and have different properties. Dark corn syrup is a blend of corn syrup and refiner’s sugar to give it a brown color and a molasses flavor. Molasses is what is left behind after sugar is extracted from sugarcane syrup. The syrup is boiled three times with light molasses left after the first boiling and sugar extraction.
Light molasses is the most like dark corn syrup. Dark molasses is left after the second. The molasses that remains after the third boiling is called blackstrap molasses and is the least like dark corn syrup.
The flavors of dark corn syrup and molasses are different. Dark corn syrup’s flavor has some similarity to the sweetest form of molasses, which is the light molasses but it is much sweeter and its molasses notes are not as intense.
Dark molasses has even less sugar, which means that it has a much more bitter and metallic flavor profile than dark corn syrup. Dark corn syrup has almost nothing in common with blackstrap molasses, which is the bitterest of all the molasses varieties and has the lowest sugar content.
Dark corn syrup is a very dark amber color that has a similar shade to light molasses. It is not as dark as dark molasses or blackstrap molasses, which is such a dark brown that it is almost black.
Can you use dark corn syrup as a substitute for molasses and vice versa?
Dark corn syrup makes a decent substitute for any of the three molasses varieties if you want a less intense flavor and increased sweetness. If you want to replicate the flavor of molasses, it won’t work well. It will not give you the same complexity and deep brown color that you can expect from even the mildest-tasting molasses.
Light molasses makes a great substitute for dark corn syrup if you want to ramp up the flavor and cut down on the sweetness. It will make dishes darker and slightly more bitter than they would have been with dark corn syrup. Dark molasses will not be as good a substitute because of its bitterness and dark color.
Blackstrap molasses should not be used at all. It has almost no sweetening power and is primarily bitter. Molasses will not be a good substitute for dark corn syrup when making candy since it won’t inhibit sugar crystal formation to keep the candy smooth.
When should you use dark corn syrup and when should you use molasses?
You can use dark corn syrup in any dish where you want a mild molasses flavor and concentrated sweetening power. It is ideal as a molasses substitute for people who think that the true molasses flavor is too intense. Use it in baked beans, barbecue sauce and baked goods like gingerbread. It is great for making soft caramel candies since it not only provides the caramel flavor, it also prevents crystallization.
Use pure molasses when you want its full caramel flavor without too much sweetness. Molasses is great for getting a glossy sheen and deep flavor in some of the applications above like baked beans and barbecue sauce. It will also enhance gingerbread with its color and flavor.