Kay Sandhu Written by Kay Sandhu

Black treacle applications: modern takes on tradition

Black treacle is used in many bulk product recipes, based on both the traditional and the contemporary. This unique ingredient is used for well-known mass-produced products such as gingerbread, treacle tart and fruit cakes, and is also used in sauces such as condiments and marinades.

Black treacle is an efficient industrial ingredient, with properties that enable multiple uses, including enhancing colour, flavour and texture, as a binding agent and as a humectant. This blog will explore some of the industrial applications that benefit from the unique features of black treacle. We will look at the history of black treacle, how it was used in the past and then explore the modern applications of this dark, rich syrup.

What is black treacle?

Black treacle is characterised by its intensely dark colour and viscosity, but with a slightly sweeter, more rounded flavour than molasses. Treacle comes in varying strengths depending on the proportions of the different ingredients in the formulation. Black treacle is the smoothest treacle, with a molasses content that is sweetened slightly with refiners syrup.

The high molasses content of black treacle means it contains nutrients and minerals as well as making it dark, rich and thick. It is also a natural humectant, meaning it stabilises the water content in foods, preserving them for longer and keeping them moist.

Many household recipes suggest that molasses and black treacle can be used interchangeably. However, in an industrial context, the subtle difference in flavour, colour and texture mean black treacle is more suited to sweeter baked goods and sauces. With its bitter undertones, molasses, while still used in some sweet foods, tends to be more popular in savoury products, whereas black treacle is more versatile and used across sweet and savoury foods.

How black treacle has been used through the centuries

Treacle is mentioned as far back as the ancient Greeks, however, this was not treacle as we know it as refiners syrup had not yet been invented.

It later began to be used to colour and flavour food when sugar’s preservative qualities were realised. It has since been used in rum production and continues to be used to colour, flavour and preserve food. By the 1800s black treacle was being used as a meat preservative, and gradually came into use in sweet baking and savoury loaves. From there black treacle was commercialised throughout the 1900s, largely used in sweet foods such as toffee, tarts and parkin.

Fruit cake and parkin are two traditional products that make use of black treacle’s humectant properties

The high proportion of molasses in black treacle brings the additional benefit of being rich in nutrients, including iron, calcium and potassium. For this reason, it was at one time marketed as a health supplement that could be taken daily. This was advertised across the UK in the late 1800s and early 1900s, most prevalently in the North of England, where malnourishment was more common. The use of molasses-rich supplements has continued into the 21st century, particularly for people with iron deficiencies.

Throughout the 20th century, black treacle was particularly popular in winter treats, such as fruit cakes and gingerbread, as the natural humectant kept the sweet foods preserved over the colder months when fresh food was less available. It was included in everything from steamed puddings to dark breads, adding flavour and colour and preserving the end products during times when fridges were not yet commonplace in most households. To this day it is still used in traditional bread recipes, particularly popular in Ireland and Scotland.

Modern applications of black treacle

Many modern applications of black treacle have their root in historical recipes that took advantage of the syrup’s properties. These historical recipes typically used equally strong flavours to pair with the bitter-sweet black treacle. In contrast, more modern recipes used in an industrial food production context also balance the bold qualities of the treacle with unexpected, delicate flavours. Or in the case of one bulk bagel recipe, uses small amounts of black treacle to aid the famous chewy bagel texture.

Gingerbread, which is coloured and moistened by black treacle, has also remained a firm favourite over the years, particularly favoured in winter. Rather than just being used as a biscuit or dessert, gingerbread is now popular as a drink decoration, chocolate core and ice cream addition, recognised as the perfect spicy pairing for sweet foods and drinks.

Black treacle is essential in developing gingerbreads’ dark colour and rich flavour

In the 20th century it was not uncommon to see meat, such as beef, with a black treacle glaze, often adorned with cloves or similar natural decoration. One modern take swaps out beef for salmon and takes inspiration from Japanese salmon recipes, using soy sauce alongside additional flavours such as mustard, oyster sauce and lemon juice.

This glaze puts black treacle’s viscosity to work so that the mixture holds together but can still be bottled for bulk production, poured and spread with ease, now often with additional flavourings as a barbeque marinade. Ready-made oven bake casserole sauces can include black treacle, as a substitute for molasses in Worcestershire Sauce-style flavourings. Where traditional meat marinades and glazes would have been made in pestle and mortar in home kitchens, modern sauces are produced in bulk and bottled.

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