Molasses is sticky and messy and it goes in pecan pie. Those are the basics, but there's more to know.
Not all molasses is created equal, whether it be in flavor or intensity, so picking the right stuff is important. We talked to senior food editor Rick Martinez, a master of molasses (and pecan pie creator), to clarify just what type you should be using when cooking different dishes. Let's learn.
The first distinction you'll see is sulfured vs. unsulfured molasses. You want to go for the unsulfured stuff. It's made with mature, fully -grown sugar cane. With sulfured molasses, sulfur is added when processing young sugar cane to make it taste more like mature cane. Unsulfured gives a sweeter, tamer, more natural flavor, which is exactly what you want.
Next, you need to figure out how intense you want that molasses flavor to be:
Regular (or Original or Mild) Molasses
This is your everyday molasses. It's the tamest in flavor and works well to boost other supporting flavors. Regular molasses is perfect for situations like pecan pie, where you want sweetness with depth to complement the brown sugar flavor. Pecan pie would just end up tasting like molasses pie if you used a molasses with more intense flavor. Basically, if a recipe calls for any type of molasses, you can always use regular in its place.
You really have to think about balancing flavor when using robust molasses. Its flavor dominates if you don't use another ingredient to mask it. If you're using it in a savory dish, think about stacking flavors like chile, vinegar, and assertive spices into fatty meats. These will keep the robust molasses in check. If you're using it in a sweet dish, flavors like ginger will help to balance. It's ideal for gingerbread cake or sticky toffee pudding cake, dishes where that strong flavor can coexist with other sharp flavors.
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Black Strap Molasses
This is the Rambo of molasses. Do not enter a forest (or anywhere really) where black strap molasses is present and angry, without being properly prepared. It will end you. The smoke and funk are extremely aggressive and should only be used in savory recipes, like ribs or other grilled meats. Delicate desserts can't stand up to this kind of flavor (and to be honest, it's still a close call with meats). Official Warning: Never substitute black strap molasses for any other kind.
If We Had to Pick Just One...
We'd reach for a bottle of Grandma's Original every damn time. Like we said, even regular or original molasses packs a lot of flavor. Sticking with the tame stuff will give you just enough caramel-y, smoky, funky, sweet flavor to use in both sweet and savory dishes. If you can't find Grandma's, Brer Rabbit will do just fine. Maybe if the cop just took Sylvester Stallone to the diner for a slice of pecan pie (like he said he was going to), the whole Rambo situation would have ended differently.