I love the earthy, almost smoky flavor of molasses, but until I started research for this article, I didn’t know much about it. What I found out is that molasses is made from sugar cane. A byproduct of the processing of white sugar, molasses is the syrup that’s left over once the sugar is separated from the juice of the cane. The sugar is extracted in three stages, and each stage produces a different grade of molasses. After the first boiling, the molasses is relatively light bodied with a sweet, mild taste. This type of molasses, sometimes labeled “mild flavor,” is used as table syrup for pancakes, biscuits, and the like.
Second comes dark molasses. Less sweet with a rich, full flavor, dark molasses is better suited to cooking. Use it in gingerbread or add a spoonful to baked beans. Look for the words “dark” or “robust flavor” on the label.
Blackstrap molasses is what’s left after the final extraction. With only the faintest hint of sweetness, blackstrap molasses is very dark and bitter—definitely an acquired taste.
You often see recipes that warn against using sulfured molasses, but the truth is that sulfur is now rarely used in the processing of molasses. Once used to clarify the sugar cane juice, sulfur causes an allergic reaction in many people, and most processors have stopped using it.