Molasses and maple syrup are two traditional sweeteners with long histories in North America. Both offer different properties in addition to sweetness. Let’s look at what they have in common and what sets them apart in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does molasses differ from maple syrup?
Molasses and maple syrup come from different plants. Molasses comes from the sugarcane plant. It is what is left after the sugar has been extracted from the boiled sugarcane juice. The juice is boiled, and sugar is extracted, leaving molasses, which sugar producers may boil up to twice more to remove as much sugar as possible. Each boiling leaves behind molasses with different properties.
Maple syrup comes from the sap of the maple tree, which is boiled to reduce it to a thicker and sweeter syrup.
Molasses and maple syrup have different flavor profiles. Both are mainly sweet, especially if you are comparing light molasses with maple syrup but molasses is not as sweet as maple syrup. Molasses consists of caramelized sugar, which gives it a strong caramel note. The darker molasses varieties have more robust flavor profiles and may even be somewhat bitter.
Maple syrup does have caramel among the notes in its flavor profile, but the caramel is very subtle and plays a complementary role alongside hints of vanilla and subtle nuttiness. There is none of the bitterness that you would get from molasses.
Molasses and maple syrup have different appearances. Molasses is dark brown. The lightest molasses is still deep brown and opaque. It is also very viscous. Maple syrup is amber-colored and translucent while also being relatively thin and watery compared to molasses.
Molasses and maple have different nutritional profiles. Both are rich in minerals, but maple syrup is not as good a source of B vitamins as molasses.
Can you use molasses as a maple syrup substitute and vice versa?
Molasses can undoubtedly work as a maple syrup substitute in many recipes and even as a topping for your pancakes and waffles. It will provide sweetness and flavor; however, the flavor it gives will be very different from that of maple syrup. Molasses gives dishes a deeper, more bitter flavor along with reduced sweetness.
Something else that you should keep in mind is how molasses will affect the color of a dish. The color will also be much darker even if you use light molasses. The darker molasses varieties should never be used in place of maple syrup. Their flavors are too different, and they offer little in the way of sweetness.
Maple syrup will work in most dishes that require molasses but don’t expect the same intense flavor. It will not provide the deep caramel/toffee notes or any of the bitterness, but it will give a lot more sweetness. You may need to reduce the amount to keep your dish from becoming too sweet.
Maple syrup will also result in a paler color if you use it in baked goods like gingerbread, which is traditionally a deep brown.
When should you use molasses, and when should you use maple syrup?
Use molasses when you want a deep, complex flavor profile. Add it to barbecue sauces to enhance the caramelized flavors of slow-smoked meat or to baked beans for a similar effect.
Maple syrup is the traditional topping for pancakes and waffles, but you can also use it as a sweetener for oatmeal or to sweeten and flavor muffins and other baked goods.