Molasses and sugar can both work as sweeteners and may even be interchangeable in a few instances, but not all. These ingredients have specific characteristics that you will have to consider if you plan to cook or bake with one or the other. How do they differ? Can you use one as a substitute for the other? Let’s take a look at these questions in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does molasses differ from sugar?
Molasses and sugar are two different products made from sugarcane or sugar beet. The simplest definition of molasses is that it is what is left after the sugar has been extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet juice. Sugar is a carbohydrate used as a sweetener in foods.
Molasses and sugar have different characteristics. Molasses is a dark, viscous liquid that can range from the medium-brown light molasses to the darkest and most bitter type called blackstrap molasses. Sugar is sold in the form of granules. Sugar can range in color from white to dark brown. Refined white sugar has no molasses added to it, while dark brown sugar will have a relatively high molasses content.
Molasses’ flavor varies from a mild toffee flavor in light molasses to a deep metallic bitterness in blackstrap molasses. White sugar is sweet with no other flavor notes; brown sugar is mainly sweet but can have a little of the molasses flavor depending on how much molasses it contains.
Can you substitute molasses for sugar and vice versa?
You can use light molasses as a substitute for dark brown sugar in some applications, but keep mind that you may have to make serious alterations to the recipe. In recipes for baked goods, you will need to reduce other liquids and may need to add baking soda to offset the acidity of molasses.
Note that even light molasses will give the dish a darker color than you would get from dark brown sugar. Also, molasses is not as sweet as sugar, so you may need to use another sweetener to make up for the absence of sugar.
Use molasses to replace brown sugar only in recipes that will be improved by a strong molasses flavor. Molasses will not be a good substitute for refined white sugar.
Dark brown sugar can work as a substitute for molasses in some recipes, but it is usually not ideal. It is sweeter than molasses, so you will need to use less of it, which means that your dish won’t have the same deep brown color. You also won’t be able to get the same strong molasses flavor from even the darkest brown sugar. Refined white sugar on its own is not a good substitute for molasses.
When should you use molasses and when should you use sugar?
Use molasses in dishes where you want the deep toffee/caramel flavor profile and mild bitterness. It works well in gingerbread and pumpkin pie. Molasses is also a great addition to barbecue sauce where it adds depth and a glossy sheen. Light molasses can work as a syrup-like sweetener for pancakes and similar breakfast foods.
Use white sugar as an all-purpose sweetener in beverages and baked items. It works best when all you need is sweetness and no other flavor notes. Use light or dark brown sugar for sweetness and a mild molasses flavor. Brown sugar is great in baked goods, barbecue sauce and is a flavorful sweetener for oatmeal and other cereals.