Your holiday dishes are much better when you add this dark, thick syrup. Just choose the right kind.

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Getting ready for fall baking? Take a quick inventory of your pantry to make sure your spices are fresh and you have plenty of molasses, one of the South’s favorite sweeteners. This syrup can vary in flavor and intensity, so you need to understand the different types of molasses in order to choose the right one for your recipe, whether you are baking a sweet treat or grilling a pork tenderloin outside.

What is Molasses?

Molasses is a thick, dark syrup made during the sugar-making process. First, sugar cane or sugar beets are crushed, and the juice is extracted.The juice is then boiled down to form sugar crystals, which are removed from the liquid. Molasses is the thick, brown syrup left after the sugar has been removed from the juice.This process is repeated several times, and each time a different type of molasses is produced.

Should I Use Sulphured or Unsulphured Molasses?

Sulphured molasses is just that – molasses that has been treated with Sulphur dioxide as a preservative. Sulphur is also added when processing young sugar cane in order to make it taste more like mature cane. This process can leave the syrup with a strong, chemical flavor, so most people prefer the cleaner, sweeter taste of the unsulphured molasses. Most commercial brands in the grocery stores will be the unsulphured type. Now that you know the difference in sulphured and unsulphured, you can choose the intensity of the flavor.

What is Light (Original, Regular, or Mild) Molasses

The most commonly sold molasses is light molasses, which comes from the first boiling of the sugar syrup and is lighter in flavor and color. It's the tamest in flavor and works well to boost other supporting flavors, instead of being intense and overpowering. Use regular molasses for holiday cakes, pecan pies, molasses cookies, and when a recipe calls for any type of molasses – you can’t go wrong using regular.

What is Dark (Robust, Full, Second) Molasses?

Dark molasses comes from a second boiling and is darker, thicker, and less sweet than light or regular molasses. Its flavor really dominates, so you have to be careful when you cook with it. It balances well with ginger, so dark molasses is ideal for gingerbread cake. For savory dishes, use it in baked beansand barbecue saucesused on fatty meats.

When Do I Use Blackstrap Molasses?

This very thick, dark, and somewhat bitter molasses comes from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is literally the dregs of the barrel. While popular with some because of its purported health benefits, (blackstrap is fractionally richer in some minerals than other molasses) blackstrap is commonly used in livestock feed. Some cooks like to the strong flavor of blackstrap molasses on meats and barbecue, but don’t ever use it in sweet dishes, and never substitute black strap molasses for any other kind.

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Try these sweet and savory recipes using molasses:

Sliced Sweet Potato Pie with Molasses Whipped Cream

Spiced Molasses Drops

Spicy Molasses Gingerbread People

Molasses Crinkles Cookies

Molasses-Grilled Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Molasses Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce

What Can I Substitute for Molasses?

If you find yourself low on molasses and can’t run to the store, these easy substitutes which will work in a pinch. For savory dishes, replace 1 cup of molasses with the same amount of honey, dark corn syrup, or maple syrup. For baked goods, replace 1 cup of molasses with a mixture of 3/4 cup sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar, and 1/4 cup of hot water or other liquid that is in the recipe. If there are spices in the recipe, increase them just a little to compensate for the loss of the molasses flavor.