September 14

6 Best Molasses Substitutes – For Color, Flavor and Baking

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Spicy and sweet, sticky molasses is the ingredient to have on hand for fall. If you find you’ve run out just when it’s time to make gingerbread, never fear; we are here to help you find the perfect substitution.

Below we've outlined the 6 best molasses substitutes to fit seamlessly with whatever recipe you have in mind. If you're in a rush, check out our on-the-go reference table below.

Enjoy!


Our On-the-Go Reference Table


For Color 

  • Brown Sugar
  • Dark Corn Syrup

For Flavor

  • Maple Syrup
  • Black Treacle

For Baking 

  • Honey
  • Light Corn Syrup

What Exactly is Molasses?


To make white sugar, cane or beet juice must be boiled to create crystals and remove impurities. The liquid left behind after sugar crystals are removed is molasses!  

This process involves boiling the syrup three times, with the molasses from each boil increasing in color and intensity of flavor. Few recipes call for the darkest version, called blackstrap molasses; its taste is bitter and mineral-rich when baked. Instead, choose dark molasses for superior flavor.  

Molasses has about 65% of the sweetening power as white sugar. It offers a powerful rise and a heavy, coarse crumb in bread. Molasses is strongly hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and holds water.  Cookies made with molasses stay soft once they cool, and cakes are dense but also moist.

But molasses is most beloved for its spicy, autumnal quality and rich color.  Many sweeteners can mimic its humectant properties in baked goods, but few can offer molasses’ flavor and color features.

6 Molasses Substitutes 

1) Dark Corn Syrup


Corn syrup is prepared by digestion of corn starch into glucose and fructose, resulting in a syrup slightly sweeter than table sugar but with a viscosity very similar to molasses. Dark corn syrup includes some molasses plus additional caramel color and flavor.

Similarities: Dark corn syrup will achieve similar darkening of bread, cakes, and cookies. It also has a robust flavor reminiscent of molasses.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio, but expect the recipe to turn out slightly sweeter. 

Flavor Notes: Both Dark and Light corn syrup are sweeter than molasses.  Dark corn syrup mimics the background flavor of molasses but lacks its minerally subtleties.

Suggested Dishes: Use Dark corn syrup for baked beans, pulled pork, and gingerbread (when flavor and color are essential).  You can use light corn syrup for any other bread, cookie, or cake (when moisture is key).

2) Black Treacle


Essentially the U.K’s version of molasses, treacle is prepared by mixing molasses with refined cane syrup to achieve a very dark yet easily pourable sweetener. 

Similarities: Treacle will confer very similar spice and color properties to your recipe.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Treacle is slightly sweeter than molasses and less intense, with a heavy, burnt flavor profile that will give any Brit instant nostalgia!

Suggested Dishes: Glazed meats, beans, sponge cakes

3) Maple Syrup


Prepared from the thickened sap of maple trees, maple syrup's distinctively-flavored ingredient ranges from pale amber to deep chestnut.

Similarities: Both syrups are dark in color and have singular flavors associated with the harvest season.

Suggested Conversion: Use about ⅔ the amount of molasses called for in the recipe.  Alternatively, use a 1:1 ratio of maple syrup to molasses but reduce other liquids slightly or add a few tablespoons of flour.

Flavor Notes: Maple syrup is redolent of vanilla, caramel, toasted wood, and even coffee.

Suggested Dishes: Breakfast dishes, cookies, desserts, scones

4) Honey


Honey is a natural invert syrup with approximately the same sweetness as table sugar. Pale golden in color, it is a popular and accessible liquid sweetener.

Similarities: Both are liquid sweeteners with similar humectant properties.

Suggested Conversion: Use ⅔ cup of honey per one cup of molasses.  You can also cut back on other liquids or add a few tablespoons of flour.

Flavor Notes: Honey is somewhat thinner and sweeter than molasses, with a much lighter color and lacking its intense spiciness.  Honey may have its own bright floral flavor profile.

Suggested Dishes: Cakes, breads, Moroccan or Middle Eastern dishes

5) Golden Syrup


Another British condiment, golden syrup has gained broader appeal outside the U.K than has black treacle.  Made by boiling cane syrup until it thickens, the resulting bronze-colored syrup is viscous and very sweet.

Similarities: While it does not share taste or color properties with molasses, it is also a wonderful humectant in baked goods and makes cookies and tarts with long-lasting moisture.

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio, but expect a sweeter product with a milder flavor.

Flavor Notes: Buttery and barely citrusy, golden syrup has a caramel undertone.

Suggested Dishes: Caramels, cakes, cookies, muffins, pie filling

6) Brown Sugar


Brown sugar consists of refined white sugar moistened with 3-10% molasses.

Similarities: Because it contains molasses, it will provide some of the same flavor and color in food, although not as much as black treacle or dark corn syrup.  Also, because it is a dry sugar, it is less hygroscopic.  Baked goods made with brown sugar will be less moist upon cooling and dry out more quickly than those made with molasses or with one of the other substitutes on this list.

Suggested Conversion: Use ¾ cup brown sugar for every 1 cup of molasses in the recipe (a 3:4 ratio).

Flavor Notes: Brown sugar has vague toasty and caramel notes, which do not compare in intensity to molasses.  It is comparable in sweetness to table sugar.

Suggested Dishes: Beans, barbecue sauce, marinades

Frequently Asked Questions


Substitute for Pomegranate Molasses?

Pomegranate molasses is concentrated juice of sour pomegranates.  A reduction of store-bought pomegranate juice is an excellent substitute.  Otherwise, lemon juice mixed with honey works well.

Can You Substitute Molasses for Brown Sugar?

A better way to do this is not to substitute directly, but to mix molasses and white sugar to make homemade brown sugar.  Mix 1 cup of white sugar with 1 tablespoon molasses for light brown sugar, and add more molasses to darken your brown sugar.

Can You Substitute Molasses for Sugar?

Molasses is less sweet than sugar but has a stronger flavor. If you substitute molasses for sugar (or brown sugar) in a 1:1 ratio, your recipe will turn out less sweet but darker, moister, and with an intense spicy flavor.

Can You Substitute for Molasses in Cookies?

It is best to substitute another liquid sweetener (see the list above) rather than a dry sweetener, like white table sugar.  Liquid sweeteners, like molasses or any liquid substitute, produce moist cookies that stay soft for days.  Cookies made with dry sugar will lose moisture quickly.

Can You Substitute for Molasses in Cookies?

Try mixing 1 cup of white sugar with 1 tablespoon of dark corn syrup, black treacle, dark maple syrup, or honey.  Not all of these will give the same color and flavor as brown sugar, but they will give your recipe similar properties.

Best Substitute For Molasses in Baked Beans?

Brown sugar, black treacle, and dark corn syrup will all provide the depth of color and flavor necessary to make baked beans.

Can You Substitute Molasses for Honey?

Molasses has a much deeper color than honey and a flavor that can overpower other ingredients.  It is not an ideal choice to substitute for honey.  If it is your only option, reduce the quantity as much as you can, and increase the other spices in the recipe, or they may be overshadowed.

Best Substitute for Molasses in Gingerbread?

Black treacle and dark corn syrup will work best as molasses substitutes in gingerbread.

Conclusion


Molasses is a singular ingredient with extraordinary properties.  While nothing else quite compares, use this list of substitutes to find one that will complement your recipe.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a note below.

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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