Treacle: The Famous U.K. Sweetener

Treacle is a generic name in the United Kingdom used for any syrup produced when making sugar. Treacle is also sometimes called black treacle and is usually the same product as molasses. Molasses is the name given to treacle in the United States and most other parts of the New World. Both names refer to the viscous liquid remnants after the extraction of sugar from boiled cane syrup. 

Golden syrup is also called light treacle sometimes, which can lead to confusion. Golden syrup is another byproduct of the sugar production process. Unlike the darker product, golden syrup is sweeter and lacks much of the bitterness. 

In the U.K., the history of treacle does differ from that of molasses. Before the 1600s, the United Kingdom’s treacle came from the first European sugar producers in Venice and was used for medicinal reasons. Treacle was mentioned by Chaucer in the 14th century. At the time, healthcare professionals deemed it beneficial for the blood, and it showed up in formulas for poison antidotes. 

The first sugar refineries in London got their start in the 1600s, which means that sugar and treacle became more widely available and affordable to the public. It had never been expensive, but with local production, it became the cheapest it had ever been. Treacle became a common ingredient in gingerbread and other baked goods. It was also used in beverages like ginger beer. Before treacle became widely available, early versions of gingerbread used licorice to get the dark color. They were sweetened with honey, but treacle proved to be an effective substitute for both. 

The root of the word treacle lies in Ancient Greek. It comes from theriaca antidotos, which translates to antidote for bites from wild animals. 

Treacle flavor profile

Like dark molasses, treacle has a very dark color. It does offer some sweetness but also comes with a burnt and bitter aftertaste. In short, its flavor profile is almost the same as that of dark molasses. Golden syrup or light treacle has a mild caramel flavor with buttery notes. 

Health benefits of treacle

Because it is molasses by another name, black treacle has the same nutritional profile and provides nutrients like: 

  • Vitamins: Treacle is a source of several B vitamins, including pyridoxine, thiamin, and niacin. Pantothenic acid is also present. 
  • Minerals: You can get minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium from treacle. 

By consuming treacle, you may treat or prevent certain health problems like:

  • Osteoporosis: The minerals in treacle may help slow the loss of bone density that often comes with menopause. 
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: The iron content of treacle may help to treat iron-deficiency anemia. 

Health concerns

Treacle does contain sugar, which means that consuming it in excess can result in weight gain and the health problems that come with it. Too much sugar can also lead to type 2 diabetes. 

Common uses

Classic U.K. dishes that use treacle as one of the main ingredients include treacle tart, which is similar to the American molasses classic shoofly pie. You can use it to make Irish treacle bread or any of several scone and bread variants that get color and flavor from treacle.

Treacle may also be used as a molasses substitute in American-style dishes like baked beans, marinades, and barbecue sauce. It is used in cocktails such as the mahogany, which consists of treacle as well as gin and sometimes brandy.