by Lynn Siprelle
ext to my stove is a clear squeeze bottle filled with dark brown stuff. People usually think it's soy sauce, but they get a shock if they put it on rice. It's not soy sauce, it's molasses.
"Why keep a squeeze bottle of molasses next to the stove?" you're thinking. "How often do you make gingerbread, anyway?" Because in modern American homes, that's about the only time molasses gets pulled out of the slightly gummy back recesses of the cupboard, if there's any in the cupboard at all--for gingerbread at Christmas.
That, friends, is a pity, because molasses is not just a sweetener, it's a flavor enhancer and it packs some serious nutrition.
Once upon a time, molasses was THE sweetener in American homes. It was much, much cheaper than refined white sugar, and could be made at home from such crops as sorghum or bought fairly inexpensively at the store. White "store-bought" sugar was a luxury reserved for company; molasses was for every day.
But after the end of World War I, refined sugar prices dropped so sharply that soon everyone was enjoying the "luxury" of white sugar every day. And our great-great-grandmothers would be astonished to discover that it's also about twice as expensive as white sugar nowadays.
The best molasses to use every day is blackstrap. It's the product of the third squeezing of the sugar cane, and while it's quite sweet, it is also very full of trace minerals and vitamins--more so than any other form of molasses. Just one tablespoon of blackstrap contains 20% of your daily allowance of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.
"OK, molasses is great. So what do I do with it?" So glad you asked.
We use molasses for three main things: Sweetening porridge; sweetening coffee; and enhancing the flavor of stir-fry, a dish we very nearly live on.
Josie and Louisa prefer molasses to any other sweetener on their porridge, especially corn porridge. It adds a richness that plain sugar does not. They've also discovered that plain yogurt with molasses is incredibly good, and I agree. It's my favorite way to eat a bowl now.
John and I like molasses in our coffee. If you like brown sugar in your coffee, you'll like molasses even better--and you'll be getting some extra vitamins and minerals in what would otherwise be a nutrient-robbing cup of java.
And as we puttered around the kitchen working on our perfect stir fry, we discovered that putting a good dribble of molasses in gave things an authentic flavor otherwise missing. We get compliments! And molasses is the secret.
I often use molasses in baked goods just to supercharge the flavor. Make your batters a teeny bit less wet and a lot less sweet and add some molasses in there. There's no real rule of thumb, just dabble.
I hope this encourages you to go out and get a bottle of blackstrap and do some experimenting!