More commonly known as treacle or black treacle or, in the US as blackstrap molasses, molasses are essentially what is left over after cane sugar is boiled to produce sugar and most of the sugar has been extracted. It does have a sugar content yet it has long been valued rather more for its other important vitamin and mineral contents and for its intriguing rich colour and flavour. Molasses can be produced from sugar beet but this is too bitter for our taste palates and so it is sometimes added to animal feeds.
Once, molasses was treated with sulphur dioxide to lighten its colour but unsulphured molasses is the norm these days.
Molasses/treacle is the basis for making dark rum yet interestingly not (as you may think given the name) for the quintessential British treacle tart, in which the 19th century invention golden syrup is usually used. Before golden syrup was first marketed in 1885, treacle tart recipes did use a filling of molasses/treacle and breadcrumbs but once the public found they preferred the gentler flavour of the new syrup, they kept the old name, largely because the word 'treacle' was commonly used for all sorts of syrups made from cane and thus golden syrup was thought of as a light or golden treacle.
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There should be no additions to the contents; unsulphured molasses is a better nutritional choice.
Molasses has a very long shelf life but should be kept tightly closed.
A favourite traditional flavouring of such robust foods as gingerbreads, toffees and rich fruit cakes, especially dark Christmas and wedding cakes. Treacle is also an ingredient in Boston Baked Beans; other recipes might use brown sugar, corn syrup or maple syrup.
The dark look and big flavours of molasses hide the fact that it is sweeter and thus more calorie-laden than white sugar. However, it has the greatest number of useful other nutritional benefits and so might be considered the healthiest of sweeteners. Its high calorie count is balanced by it generally being used in small amounts only, for colour or flavour, as it might be added to a soda bread.
And treacle tart? To get back to basics, start by using half molasses and half golden syrup and adjust in future according to your palate.