Molasses has been a way for brewers to up the amount of added sugars in beer throughout history, and has many names around the world, including blackstrap molasses, original molasses, and black treacle, but there’s much more to it. With different types of this versatile nectar taken at different points during the sugar refining process, there are many options for brewers to add different complexities into any beer. This week we’ll explore not only the brewing benefits of molasses, but how it’s made, health benefits, and we may even divulge our Brew-B-Cue barbecue sauce recipe, since barbecue goes hand in hand with brewing!
Where Does Molasses Even Come From?
I think that everyone knows that molasses is a bi-product of making sugar, both from sugarcane and sugar beets, as well as other sources, such as sorghum (not considered real molasses, just like pomegranate molasses and other non-sugarcane or sugar beet based varieties). I just never really understood what that actually looked like.
Sugarcane Molasses is made when the sugarcane is reduced during the boiling process. They basically pull the sugarcane out of the field, strip it down and crush it, collecting all of the juice, and throw it in a vat to boil three separate times. Boiling the juice creates a reduction that encourages sugar crystallization, then those sugar crystals are harvested and refined.
The bi-product of the first boil is usually called light molasses or cane syrup, and retains the most sugar content and the lightest, sweetest flavor of any of the three reductions. This is traditionally used in baking and sometimes even as a substitute for maple syrup, if that gives you any idea as to its sweetness.
The second boil produces a darker, less sweet and lightly bitter molasses. This is generally used as a substitute sweetener in the United States and other countries for coffee, tea and other libations, as well as in savory dishes such as baked beans and as a sugar adjunct in baking.
Blackstrap Molasses is what is yielded from the third and final boil. Blackstrap has a STRONG and delicious flavor, moderate bitterness, and the lowest amount of sugar of the three types. It also has the most nutrients and health benefits.
Sugar beet molasses is different in that only the syrup left from the third boil and subsequent crystallization of the sugars is considered molasses, and generally has a sugar content and flavor closer to that of light molasses.
Why is Blackstrap Molasses Such a Big Deal?
Despite being cut from the same cloth, blackstrap is an animal all its own. It’s packed full of nutrients, including the majority of your daily values of manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin B6, potassium and selenium in just a few teaspoons!
Beyond that, it has a deliciously unique and complex flavor that plays well when used in smaller amounts, around 2 - 5%, of darker beers like Stouts and Porters. It can add an extra dimension of flavor, complexity and subtlety that few other brewing sugars can.
Part of the reason why the flavor is so strong is because of all of those minerals, maillard reactions from the boiling process (hence the color), and a relatively low sugar content. The sugars in blackstrap make up anywhere from 45% to 60%, most of which is sucrose. This means that it’s only 45% - 60% fermentable, leaving the rest as flavor in your brew.
Unsulphured Molasses VS Sulphured Molasses
Back in the day they used sulfur dioxide as both a preservative and a bleaching agent in molasses, which was probably not the best plan, but I guess they did what they had to do. Had there been more science, they would have realized that even the blackstrap molasses, which has the lowest sugar content of most of the available molasses on the market, comes in somewhere around 80 brix (think of that! That’s 1.425 Specific Gravity!), so it’s naturally shelf stable the same way that honey or agave is naturally shelf stable.
All the sulphur dioxide really did was give it a bad flavor, especially when used in brewing, giving the beer an off, metallic characteristic that sounds awful. These days, the sulfured stuff is much harder to find, thankfully, and you can get finest quality, unsulfured molasses at just about every turn. All of that being said, make sure your molasses specifies that it’s unsulphured!
Health Benefits of Blackstrap Molasses
I know, I know, this isn’t a health blog, but blackstrap has a TON of health benefits, and while we’re on the subject, we should expand on that. Plus, you can always tell your significant other that your Midnight Wave Imperial Stout with Blackstrap and Blueberry Puree is technically a superfood!
For starters, this stuff is full on gluten free, since it does not come from a gluten containing grain. So for people with celiac disease, a celiac gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy that want to make a sorghum stout, have no fear! Even if it’s not labelled gluten free, don’t worry, there’s no gluten to be found!
It also helps with increased circulation and the production of red blood cells. Blackstrap has 20% of your daily value of iron per teaspoon! It can help lower blood pressure readings, and even help lower your risk factor for heart disease.
Obviously, it’s not just the iron doing all that, but the contribution of all of the minerals and compounds that lend themselves towards faster healing, increased bone health, extensive anti-oxidant properties, and even weight loss! I’m telling you, you might as well re-name your blackstrap beer Superfood Stout!
Another very cool benefit of blackstrap is that it has a lower glycemic index, which means it’s a healthier sweetener for anyone who is diabetic. Unlike other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup that are quickly absorbed, the sugar intake when you use molasses aids in slower absorption into the bloodstream.
Ok, enough about health benefits! Let’s make some superfood beer barbeque sauce!!
Cooking with Blackstrap Molasses
We had to add a cooking section in here because there are too many good things that you can make with molasses. Of course, for us, we want the rich, complex goodness of blackstrap, but you don’t always have to use that. It just seems like such a waste not too! Check out our take on some Texas style sauce with blackstrap and the juice of sun ripened tomatoes! Ok, maybe we’ll throw the tomatoes in with all the juice.
Brew-B-Cue Texas Style BBQ Sauce
Download the Recipe
Step By Step
- 1 Tbsp Butter (Sub Avocado Oil, Olive Oil or Bacon Grease if you want!)
- ½ Purple Onion (I like the added sweet!) Minced
- 2 - 4 Cloves Garlic Minced
- 1 Habanero Seed Removed (unless you want hot!) Minced
- 3 oz Sun Dried Tomato Minced
- 15 oz Can Tomato Sauce
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- ⅛ C Apple Cider Vinegar
- ¼ C Blackstrap Molasses
- 2 Tbsp Worchestershire Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Yellow Mustard
- 3 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 1 Tsp Black Pepper (freshly cracked, we’re not savages)
How It’s Done:
- Grab a medium saucepan and put it on med-low heat
- Melt the butter, then add in minced onion, garlic, and habanero, stirring until softened
- Add in the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine
- Bring to a light boiling point, then simmer for 10 minutes
- If you have an immersion blender, blend it up until the consistency is smooth and thick - no chunks
- If not, remove from the heat, let it cool 10 minutes, and toss it all in your blender or food processor - blend until smooth
- Allow 5 more minutes to simmer. Makes about a pint.
Hopefully you enjoyed learning all about molasses! Try it in your next stout, porter, brown, or anything you’d like to experiment with and let us know how it comes out in the comments below! Full disclosure: It does not go well with cider!! This has been tried, and it’s…..off putting, to say the least! Experiment all you can, because that’s what homebrewing is all about!
Let us know how your version of the BBQ sauce comes out! Tag @brewchatter on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so we can see how delicious your version is, and tell us in the comments below, too!! Don’t forget to follow while you’re there! Don’t forget to head over to BrewChatterTV on YouTube and check out all of the fun and informative homebrewing videos for every type of fermentation!