Why Molasses Is the Magical Cookie Ingredient + 5 Recipes to Try

You might think of molasses as that ever-present, never-used bottle of dark, syrupy stuff, gathering dust in the back of your grandmother’s cabinet, but did you know it’s darn near indispensable for baking? And I’m not talking just the obvious ginger snaps, either; molasses can make a bevy of baked goods a whole bunch better.

What is molasses? Turns out, it’s a byproduct of something else we rely on in our kitchens and pantries: sugar.

Sugar starts its journey as a liquid found inside a variety of cultivars, most often sugar cane and sugar beet. That juice is extracted, usually by grinding or crushing the plant and collecting the liquid.

It’s then boiled down, and sugar crystals are extracted out and further processed to make sugar. The dark-brown, viscous liquid that remains after boiling is – you guessed it – molasses.

Here’s molasses being made the old-fashioned way:

The stuff left over is known as first molasses, also called light, mild, sweet or Barbados molasses. Made from the first boil of sugar cane/beet juices, after the crystal sugar is removed, light molasses is the lightest in color, sweetest in taste and softest in flavor. Light molasses is the kind most commonly used for baking.

From the second boil of those same sugar cane/beet juices comes dark (full, robust or second are also used) molasses. Since it’s been boiled down further, dark molasses is darker and stronger in flavor than light molasses, and a little thicker. It can be used in many recipes in place of light molasses, and nothing gives gingerbread cookies their trademark spicy sweet flavor and rich brown color better than dark molasses.

Blackstrap molasses, made from the third (and final) boiling of the juice, is the thickest, darkest and least-sweet type of molasses; in fact, given the remaining sucrose has been extracted, it’s quite bitter. Blackstrap molasses isn’t easily substituted in place of light or dark; however, it’s great in savory dishes (baked beans, pulled pork and barbecue sauce come to mind).

Blackstrap molasses is frequently used as a nutritional additive, as it retains the bulk of the sugars’ vitamin and mineral content. In fact, blackstrap molasses contains up to 20 percent of your daily allowance of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, and was for many years sold as a type of “cure-all” for all types of gastrointestinal ailments.

So what are the benefits of baking with molasses?

1. For starters, molasses has a much lower glycemic index than sugar. Molasses is also great for adding loads of that delicious brown-sugar flavor to cookies, cakes and other baked goods, without making it too sweet to eat.

2. Since it attracts moisture (like honey), baked goods made with molasses stay moist and chewy a lot longer than those made with sugar.

3. By that same token, spiced cakes and cookies have more time for their complex flavor profiles to develop.

Molasses can also be used as a sugar substitute in baked goods, but remember: its distinct flavor and color will come through in the finished product. As a rule of thumb, you can used 1-1/3 cups molasses in place of 1 cup of sugar.

Keep in mind that, since molasses is more acidic than sugar, you’ll need to add 1/2 tsp. of baking soda to your recipe (if it’s not already in there) to cut that acidity. Also, since molasses is a liquid, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/3 cup.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get baking; here are a few fantastic cookie recipes that will have you on your way to mastering molasses in your own kitchen.

 1. Pumpkin Spice Molasses Cookies

Very Best Baking
Very Best Baking

It seems like everyone forgets about pumpkins as soon as Thanksgiving ends, but nothing is as nice as eating some pumpkin cookies on a cold, blustery December night.

Find the recipe here.

2. WWII Oatmeal Molasses Cookies

AllRecipes
AllRecipes

This classic, decades-old recipe is a tried-and-true favorite for a reason – the end products are absolutely delicious.

Find the recipe here.

3. Molasses Spice Cookies with Orange Sugar

The Kitchn
The Kitchn

There’s not much that can make molasses spice better, unless it’s orange sugar and that’s exactly what these cookies have going on.

Find the recipe here.

4. Chewy Molasses Cookies

Epicurious
Epicurious

An old standby, this is one of our favorite classic recipes to make. They’re absolutely outstanding dipped in coffee, which means they’re basically a breakfast cookie, right?

Find the recipe here.

5. Gingerbread Cookies

The Pioneer Woman
The Pioneer Woman

How could we create a molasses cookie recipe list without including gingerbread cookies? These cookies hold excellent shape in the cooking-cutting process so feel free to bust out all the cookie cutters you can find.

Find the recipe here.

Read More: 20 Pound Cake Recipes That Will Make Your Momma Proud