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Ground view of tall, black sugarcane roots growing in a field

Granular detail: food grade cane molasses

26/10/2023 By Ibrahim Belo in Products Cane molasses

Cane molasses is a dark, viscous and robustly flavoured sugar syrup used in a wide range of food, beverage and pharmaceutical applications. It is a by-product of the sugarcane refining process manufactured into an ingredient with functional properties that flavour, colour, texturise and give bulk to food, drinks and medicines. Molasses is also the base for other sugar products such as treacle, muscovado sugar and soft brown sugar.

What is cane molasses?

Cane molasses is a sugar syrup manufactured from the liquid waste stream of the bulk sugarcane manufacturing process. When crystalline cane and white sugars are produced from sugarcane, the leftover liquid is a dark, viscous, bitter syrup sweetened by residual sucrose. This is raw molasses and, without further processing, is not suitable for human consumption. 

Black, treacle-like molasses being poured into a heap

Food grade cane molasses is a dark, viscous sugar syrup.

Molasses is unrefined, so it is high in a range of minerals and nutrients present in the original sugarcane plant. It is also rich in the organic molecules generated by repeated caramelisation, the thermal reaction that occurs when heating the sugar rich massecuite syrup to extract crystalline sugars. These include maltols, furans, caramelan, caramelen and caramelin, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that give molasses its dark colour and distinctive flavour.

In this article, we are focusing on molasses derived from sugarcane. There is a by-product resulting from the sugar beet refining process, but because of the chemicals present in the raw sugar beet and resulting bitter taste, beet molasses is only used in animal feeds.

Manufacturing molasses into a functional ingredient

Cane molasses requires further processing to become a functional ingredient in foods, beverages and medicines. Industrial quantities of sugarcane only grow in tropical and subtropical regions. Our globally sourced molasses, checked for quality at every stage, is shipped to the UK in bulk liquid vessels and stored in holding tanks before being transported by 30,000 litre temperature-controlled road tankers to the Ragus factory in Slough.

Three men wearing hard hats inspecting tanks and silos at a coastal location with a tanker in the background

Raw unprocessed molasses arrives in bulk liquid carriers and pumped into holding tanks at the docks. Ragus checks quality at every stage.

The unprocessed molasses may be stored for a further period in our on-site tank farm in heated tanks. It is then pumped into evaporating vats in the factory to begin the manufacturing process. The molasses is heated to over 80°C, purified and the sugar content and acidity levels are adjusted, depending on the exact formulation of the final product required.  

The resulting processed cane molasses is passed through a 300-micron filter to remove any remaining impurities and then cooled and matured in holding tanks. Once matured, the molasses is passed through an 80-micron filter and packed into 1,000 litre intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), or directly into 30,000 litre road tankers for direct delivery to our customers.

Two men wearing hard hats and Ragus overalls pushing a box crate into a storage room

Molasses in intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) is stored in our hot room at the Ragus factory in Slough.

What are the functional properties of cane molasses?

The provenance and processing of cane molasses provides it with unique functional properties that play a significant role in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical products where it is used.

There is residual sucrose in the syrup, as not all the sugar crystallises out and is removed in the refining process. The sucrose, combined with the caramelisation products maltol, furans, ethyl acetate and diacetyl from the repeated heating of the sugar to between 120oC and 180oC, gives a unique bittersweet flavour. The sweetness can be intensified as heating the raw cane molasses during manufacturing into a food product generates invert sugars, which have greater sweetness levels than sucrose.

Caramelan, caramelen and caramelin molecules, also the products of caramelisation, join together into long chain polymers to give molasses its rich dark colour. 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is also created during caramelisation, a distinctly dark colourant and flavour often found in colas, beers and coffee.

The proportion of sucrose, invert sugar, moisture and organic non-sugars, including VOCs, gives molasses its thick viscous texture, bulk and mouthfeel. This balance of constituents that is adjusted during the manufacturing process can be formulated until the colour is almost black.

Molasses applications in food, beverage and medicines

As a result of its specific functional properties, food grade cane molasses has a range of applications in food, beverage and pharmaceutical products. It is also a component in many sugar products, which benefit from molasses’ unique properties.

A whole Christmas pudding with cherries on top, dusted with icing sugar Barbecue ribs sitting on a wooden chopping block with extra marinade in a white bowl behind it

Dark viscous and bitterweet, molasses is ideal for Christmas puddings and thick, sticky barbeque sauces.

The dark colouring and intense flavour of molasses benefits biscuits such as ginger nuts, artisan breads and Christmas pudding. These features, plus the viscosity and texture, means molasses is a key ingredient of toffee, savoury sauces and marinades, in particular barbeque sauces.

The same dark colouring, bittersweet taste and mouthfeel mean it is used to produce beers such as stouts and porters, usually alongside caramels, and it the foundational ingredient in dark rums.

Three pints of Guinness being clinked in celebration Whiskey, brandy or rum in three tasting glasses

Molasses adds further depth, flavour and colour, as well as contributing to mouthfeel of stouts, porters and dark rum.

Different amounts of molasses blended with crystalline white sugar create soft brown light sugar and dark soft brown sugar, with both these ingredients using the molasses content to best advantage in baking, biscuits, desserts and beverages.

Ragus’ unique treacle recipes include molasses blended with refiner’s syrup. The result is a mellowed and lighter coloured syrup that is widely used in baking, confectionery, beverages, as a glaze, and in marinades, sauces and desserts. Treacles are often found in medicinal syrups, such as cough linctus.

Cough syrup or other medicine being poured out of a dark bottle onto a teaspoon, with different coloured tablets in background

Medicines use a wide range of syrups, crystallines and liquid sugars in their formulations. Treacle is commonly found in liquid medicines to sweeten, flavour and colour, and is often used to mask strong bitter tasting drugs.

Ragus supplies high-quality molasses to industrial food, beverage and pharmaceutical brands to enhance product flavours, textures and appearance. To learn more about our pure sugar products, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ibrahim Belo

With a primary responsibility for manufactured product quality control, Ibrahim works within our supplier chain, factory and production laboratory. He has a focus on continuous improvement, implementing and maintaining our technical and quality monitoring processes, ensuring standards and product specifications are met.

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