Molasses: Types, nutrition, and benefits

Molasses is a byproduct of making sugar. Some sources claim that as a sweetener it is more healthy than sugar. There are several types of molasses, each with slightly different properties.

Some people believe that molasses is more beneficial to the body than sugar, but what does the research say?

This article closely examines molasses, including its types, uses, nutrition, and benefits.

Molasses is a thick syrup that people use as a sweetener. It is a byproduct of the sugar-making process, and it comes from crushed sugar cane or sugar beets.

First, manufacturers crush sugar cane or sugar beets to extract the juice. They then boil down the juice to form sugar crystals. Molasses is the thick, brown syrup left over after they remove the crystals from the juice.

Manufacturers repeat this process several times, producing different types of molasses each time.

The different types of molasses vary in color, consistency, flavor, and sugar content.

Light molasses

This is the syrup that results from the first boiling. It has the lightest color and the sweetest taste. People commonly use it in baking.

Dark molasses

This is the syrup that results from the second boiling. It is thicker, darker, and less sweet. People can use it in baking, but it lends foods a distinct color and flavor.

Blackstrap molasses

This is the syrup that results from the third boiling. It is the thickest and darkest type of molasses and tends to have a bitter taste.

Blackstrap molasses is also the most concentrated form, containing the most vitamins and minerals. For this reason, some sources say that it has the most health benefits.

Unsulfured and sulfured molasses

Molasses labeled “sulfured” contains added sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, preventing the molasses from spoiling.

Sulfured varieties tend to be less sweet than other varieties.

Other types

Manufacturers can also make molasses from sorghum, pomegranates, carob, and dates.

Unlike refined sugar, molasses contains some vitamins and minerals.

One tablespoon — 20 grams (g) — of molasses contains the following amounts of a person’s daily values of each nutrient:

  • manganese: 13%
  • magnesium: 12%
  • copper: 11%
  • vitamin B-6: 8%
  • selenium: 6%
  • potassium: 6%
  • iron: 5%
  • calcium: 3%

One tablespoon also contains about 58 calories, all of which come from carbs, which is mostly sugar.

In addition to containing vitamins and minerals, molasses is very high in sugar. In excess, sugar can be very harmful to a person’s health.

Excess sugar intake has been linked to some of the world’s biggest health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Registered dietician nutritionists do not recommend that people start eating molasses for nutrients because its sugar content is so high. The best way to get these nutrients is by eating whole foods.

However, if a person is going to eat sugar anyway, molasses is likely a more healthy alternative.

Limited research about the health effects of molasses is available. However, researchers have linked the nutrients in the syrup to several health benefits.

Bone health

Molasses is a good source of iron, selenium, and copper, all of which help maintain healthy bones.

The syrup also contains calcium, which plays an important role in bone health and osteoporosis prevention.

However, a person can easily find other healthful food sources of these minerals. They include nuts, seeds, and dairy products. People should not rely on molasses as a source of these nutrients.

Heart health

Molasses is a decent potassium source, promoting healthy blood pressure and helping maintain heart health.

Although researchers have not studied the effects of molasses on the heart in humans, an older 2005 study in rats indicated that supplementing the diet with molasses can help increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol may protect against heart disease and strokes.

However, no evidence suggests molasses will have the same benefits in humans.

Blood sugar

People with poor blood sugar control should limit their intake of all forms of sugar, including molasses. That said, molasses may help stabilize blood sugar levels in healthy adults on a high carb diet.

One 2016 study found that eating it alongside foods containing carbs resulted in lower blood sugar and insulin levels than simply eating them on their own.

That said, molasses has a similar glycemic index rating to refined sugar. The glycemic index measures how quickly specific foods raise blood sugar levels.

Antioxidants

According to a 2019 study, molasses may have a higher antioxidant effect compared to sugarcane juice.

A 2020 study also showed that sugarcane molasses may be used as a potential source of polyphenols, which are chemicals that naturally occur in plants and are a type of antioxidant.

An older 2012 study also showed that antioxidants can help protect cells from the oxidative stress associated with cancer and other diseases.

Molasses is safe for most people if they consume it in moderation.

While molasses can be a good alternative to refined sugar, consuming too much of any added sugar can have adverse effects. The effects may be particularly harmful to people with diabetes.

Also, because people make molasses in a process called fermentation, it can cause digestive problems. Consuming large amounts may cause loose stools or diarrhea.

People with irritable bowel syndrome or other forms of digestive discomfort may want to avoid this syrup.

While both molasses and sorghum molasses are thick, dark brown sweeteners, manufacturers process them from different plants.

They make molasses in the process of converting sugar cane into sugar. They make sorghum molasses by boiling the juice from crushed stalks of sorghum plants.

Sorghum molasses contains higher amounts of some nutrients than molasses, such as phosphorus and zinc, and it is lower in sodium.

Brown sugar, which contains granulated sugar and molasses, is the closest substitute for molasses. A person can replace one cup of molasses with ¾ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup water.

The following products can also be used as a substitute for molasses in a 1:1 ratio:

  • maple syrup
  • honey
  • dark corn syrup
  • golden syrup
  • sorghum syrup

Molasses is available to purchase in grocery stores, health food stores, and online stores.

In stores, a person can usually find molasses in the baking aisle near other sweeteners like sugar and corn syrup. It is often available in bottles or jars.

Some varieties of molasses, such as blackstrap and sulfured molasses, may only be available in health food stores or online.

The following are the answers to some common questions about molasses.

Is molasses healthier than honey?

Molasses are richer than honey in many minerals and vitamins, including iron, calcium, potassium, and B.

It also contains more antioxidants than honey, which itself is high in antioxidants such as vitamins A and E.

In addition, molasses is lower in calories than honey.

Is molasses ok for people with diabetes?

Molasses does not quickly break down into glucose, making it somewhat safer than other sweeteners for people with diabetes or insulin resistance.

However, because molasses is high in carbohydrates, people living with diabetes should consume it in moderation.

Instead, they may benefit from using a low calorie sweetener, such as stevia or erythritol.

Should molasses be refrigerated after opening it?

Except for the unsulfured variety, molasses does not need to be refrigerated after a person opens the jar. They can store it in a cool, dry place.

To prevent fermenting, a person should refrigerate unsulfured molasses.

Why does molasses have a lead warning?

Blackstrap molasses has a lead warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the processing of molasses infrequently involves using a direct flame with coals that may contain a high amount of the caustic substance potash. The soil in which the sugar cane grows may also contain lead. Consuming large amounts of lead may lead to lead poisoning, cancer, and birth defects.

Molasses contains more nutrients than refined sugar. However, while molasses appears to be a slightly less harmful version of sugar, it can still have negative health effects.

Anyone consuming molasses should do so in moderation, bearing in mind that a serving is 1 tbs, or 20 g.

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