Honey and molasses are two traditional sweeteners with considerable similarities and differences. If you are unfamiliar with these ingredients, you might be surprised about what they have in common and how they differ. This SPICEography Showdown takes a look at how honey and molasses compare to each other.
How do honey and molasses differ?
The main difference between honey and molasses has to do with their sources. Honey comes from the nectar in flowers and is made by bees while molasses is a byproduct of sugar being crystallized from sugarcane or sugar beet juice. Most molasses for human consumption comes from sugarcane.
The flavor profiles of honey and molasses are very different due to their different sources. Honey’s flavor is mostly floral, but it can have notes of the flowers that the bees visited to draw nectar. As a result, the flavor of honey can differ from location to location. The honey from bees that visited orange blossoms won’t taste the same as honey from bees that visited clover plants.
In comparison, all sugarcane molasses has a deep caramel/toffee flavor with a hint of bitterness. The depth of the caramel/toffee taste and the bitterness vary depending on the stage in the sugar production process. The first boiling of the sugar cane juice will produce light molasses, which has a sweeter taste to molasses from the second and third boilings. Both honey and molasses are sweet, but honey is noticeably sweeter and lacks the bitterness that molasses provides.
Honey and molasses usually look different since honey tends to be amber and translucent, while most molasses is much darker and opaque. Some types of honey are dark enough to be close to light molasses in color.
Honey and molasses have different nutritional profiles since their vitamins and minerals are present in trace amounts. Neither of them can be considered a great source of nutrients, but molasses contains more significant amounts of various vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B-5, B-6, and iron.
Can you use honey as a substitute for molasses and vice versa?
Honey can work as a substitute for molasses in most applications, but you may notice some differences. Honey has more sugar, so your dish will taste sweeter, and because it is usually not as dark, some dishes made with honey will be paler. For example, a barbecue sauce made with honey instead of molasses won’t have the deep chocolatey color of one made with molasses. Honey tends to make the exterior of baked goods darken quickly, so cookies and muffins will still look dark but not in the same way that they would with molasses.
Molasses can work as a honey substitute in a few applications, but there are many where it won’t but a good alternative. For example, some barbecue sauces do use honey as a sweetener, and molasses will work well in those, but it won’t taste like honey. You can also use molasses as a sweetener in some baked goods that require honey, and they will be perfectly fine but noticeably different from the versions made with honey. You probably don’t want to sweeten tea and other beverages with molasses as you would with honey, and it won’t be a good sweetener in your oatmeal.
When should you use honey, and when should you use molasses?
Use honey when you want sweetness and only a mild flavor. It is excellent in beverages and subtly flavored baked goods. Use molasses for heavily spiced baked goods and dishes like gingerbread and barbecued pork.