What is the Difference Between Molasses and Treacle?
Treacle and molasses may both be by-products of the sugar refining process, but they are not as interchangeable as many believe. The two syrups have different properties which make them ideal for different uses. This blog explains the differences between the two products and where the confusion regarding how they should be labelled derives from.
Molasses is darker and stronger
Molasses is usually darker than treacle, known for its strong, bittersweet flavour and dark, almost opaque appearance. It is extremely viscous as it is a highly concentrated syrup, which is due to its production process.
After sugar beet or sugar cane are crushed to extract the juices, these are boiled to form sugar crystals with a syrup as a by-product. The syrup is boiled three times until the majority of the sucrose has crystallized to leave behind molasses. The crystals and syrup are then separated in the centrifuge, ensuring nutrients are retained by the molasses. At this point molasses requires heating, evaporating and filtering to remove impurities and ensure a product suitable for food use.
Treacle is produced at varying strengths
Treacle is typically a lighter product with less sucrose extracted, and as such is slightly sweeter than molasses, though still features mild bitterness. Significantly, treacle is produced at varying strengths. Treacle is similar to molasses due to its high molasses content, however, the lightest black treacle is actually closer to golden syrup, containing as much as 50% refiners syrup.
The same sugar refining process is followed as molasses, with treacle another by-product of the crystallisation of raw juice. However, the resulting syrup is removed from the boiling process earlier than molasses, affecting how much more sugar remains in the syrup, changing the sweetness, bitterness and viscosity. Treacle is the syrup removed earlier in the process, after the first or second boil, and is then sweetened further with refiners syrup if producing black treacle.
Different uses of treacle and molasses
Due to its bittersweet taste and high viscosity, molasses tends to be used in richer food products, typically savoury food products where its strong flavour complements and enhances any other present. In addition, its properties make it ideal for acting as a binding agent and natural preservative.
As such, molasses is commonly used to thicken sauces, adding colour and depth of flavour to condiments such as BBQ and Worcestershire sauce. Its darkness also means it is often used as a natural food colourant.
Treacle, on the other hand, is lighter, sweeter and slightly less viscous, meaning it is found more in sweeter food products, such as a rich fruit cake. In products such as this, the level of viscosity lends itself to mouthfeel and texture, creating a chewier texture alongside a sweet flavour.
Where does the confusion come from?
Our increasingly globalised world means that recipes are now shared across continents more than ever before, resulting in confusion in measurements and food names. While a thicker, darker treacle can be used to replace molasses, replacing treacle with molasses is likely to leave a baked product with a texture too thick and flavour overpowered by a bittersweet flavour.
While the two sugar products have many characteristics in common, treacle and molasses are subtly different and used in unique ways that put their individual properties to the best use. As treacle contains molasses but molasses cannot be substituted for treacle, it is easy to see where the confusion originates.
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