Some say it may even offer unique health benefits.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature explains everything you need to know about molasses.
What is molasses?
Molasses is a sweetener that is formed as a byproduct of 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.
Bottom Line: Molasses is a thick syrup made during the sugar-making process. It comes from crushed sugar cane or sugar beets.
There are several varieties of this syrup, which vary in color, consistency, flavor and sugar content.
This is the syrup made from the first boiling. It is the lightest in color and sweetest in taste. It is most commonly used in baking.
This is the type created from the second boiling. It's thicker, darker and less sweet. It can also be used in baking, but produces a more distinct color and flavor.
This is the syrup produced after the third boiling. It is the thickest and darkest in color, and also tends to have a bitter taste.
Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated form and contains the most vitamins and minerals. For that reason, it is said to have the most health benefits.
Un-Sulfured and Sulfured
Molasses labeled as "sulfured" has sulfur dioxide added to it. Sulfur dioxide acts as a preservative and prevents it from spoiling.
Sulfured varieties tend to be less sweet than un-sulfured products.
Molasses can also be made from sorghum, pomegranates, carobs and dates.
Bottom Line: Molasses comes in several different varieties, such as light, dark and blackstrap.
Unlike refined sugar, molasses also contains some vitamins and minerals (1).
Here are the nutrients you can find in 40 grams, or about two tablespoons:
- Vitamin B6: 14% of the RDI.
- Calcium: 8% of the RDI.
- Potassium: 16% of the RDI.
- Copper: 10% of the RDI.
- Iron: 10% of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 24% of the RDI.
- Manganese: 30% of the RDI.
- Selenium: 10% of the RDI.
Two tablespoons also contain about 116 calories, all of which come from carbs - mostly sugar.
So even though it contains vitamins and minerals, remember that it's also very high in sugar. Sugar can be very harmful to your health when consumed in excess.
Due to its high sugar content, do not add molasses to your diet just for the nutrients. The best way to get these nutrients is by eating whole foods.
However, if you are going to eat sugar anyway, then this is certainly a healthier alternative.
Bottom Line: Molasses contains several important nutrients and is fairly high in minerals. However, it is also very high in sugar.
There is limited research available about the health effects of molasses. However, the nutrients in it have been linked to several health benefits.
Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol may protect against heart disease and stroke.
Molasses may also help stabilize blood sugar levels in healthy adults.
That being said, molasses scores a 55 on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels. That's not much lower than refined sugar, which is somewhere around 60.
Bottom Line: Molasses contains several nutrients that provide health benefits. It is also higher in antioxidants than other common sweeteners.
Molasses is safe for most people when consumed in moderation.
Nevertheless, while it can be a good alternative to refined sugar, an excess intake of any added sugar can have negative health effects.
People with diabetes may also want to avoid it.
Additionally, molasses can cause digestive problems. Consuming large amounts can cause loose stools or diarrhea.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or experience digestive discomfort, you may want to avoid this syrup.
Bottom Line: Molasses is safe for most people, but should be consumed in moderation. Those with diabetes or digestive issues may want to avoid it.
Molasses vs. sugar
Molasses contains several important nutrients and antioxidants, making it a better option than refined sugar.
However, it's still very high in sugar, which can be harmful when consumed in excess.
At the end of the day, molasses is just a slightly "less bad" form of sugar.