Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Foodie Freak: Molasses




Molasses is underrated and underused, at least in my kitchen. If I really think about it, to date I’ve used it four times in my life. Recently I have discovered some wonderful recipes that will certainly give it more prominence in my kitchen from now on.

I remember my grandmother having molasses in her kitchen. She used it frequently enough that I think of my grandmother every time I see a jar of molasses. My grandmother lived in “The South” where it is considerably more popular than this area, which might explain the prominence in her cooking.

Molasses is the byproduct of making sugar from either sugar canes or sugar beets. The sugar canes are ground up and squeezed, and then juice is boiled. All of the pure sugar is removed and what is left is molasses.

Young sugarcane doesn’t yield as much sugar unless sulfur is added to the processing, while older sugarcane doesn’t require the addition of sulfur which results in the end product being “unsulfured” molasses.

The first boiling and removal of sugar crystals produces the by product called “first” or “mild” molasses, and the second boiling and sugar extraction results in “second” molasses which is darker in color. A third boiling finally creates blackstrap molasses. Sugar beet molasses is the byproduct of a one-time boiling process and is not as intensive a flavor as from sugar cane.

“Treacle” is a product popular in the United Kingdom and is processed similarly to molasses, but can be the byproduct of the manufacture of other sugars like carob, dates, grapes, mulberries, and pomegranate. It is also called golden syrup.

The root word for molasses is the Latin “mel,” meaning honey. The Portuguese word “melaco” is the first known reference to molasses and is the basis for our English word molasses.

In the 1600s molasses was the standard payment for slaves in a hugely profitable market system that was called “The Trianglar Trade” of slaves, molasses and rum. Slaves were purchased in West Africa, transported to the Caribbean where they were often sent to work in the sugarcane fields, molasses were then shipped wither to New England or Europe where it was distilled into rum.

The British crown wanted a piece of the action and enacted a stiff tax on molasses, a tax which was largely ignored by the colonies and was a contributing factor in the American Revolution.

In an effort to “sweeten the deal” Parliament lowered the tax in 1763 hoping that the lower tax would encourage colonists to pay it. We know how that turned out for them (not well; they lost and we became the United States).

Growing up in the United States when I did molasses popped up in my Saturday morning cartoons, accompanied by heavy racist comedy that passed by most people. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what was being said. Looking back at these cartoons nowadays can be quite shocking compared to today’s pablum flavored animation.

The Uncle Remus tales told of Brer Rabbit, and he used molasses in his stories. To this day Brer Rabbit is still a brand name and his picture is found on bottles of molasses. Bugs Bunny would often say “What a maroon!” about Elmer Fudd, which, although it could be a play on the word “moron,” is actually a reference to freed blacks that established communities throughout the South and the Caribbean islands.

While Bugs Bunny starred in cartoons mocking the Japanese, Nazis and American Indians, the majority of his humor was at the expense of American and African blacks. Bugs Bunny would even wear black face in numerous skits. I also don’t understand Bugs Bunny’s constant cross-dressing – not that it bothered me, but he looked so hot as a woman. What’s that say about my psyche?

A bit more history: On Jan. 15, 1919, a 2,300,000 gallon tank full of molasses burst at the Purity Distilling Co. in Boston. The massive wave of molasses ended up killing 21 people, several horses and injuring 150 people. Some of the dead weren’t found for several days due to the thick brown syrup coating everything. It is said that to this day when conditions are right you can still smell the molasses in the air.

It has been unofficially called “The Boston Molassacre.” Bugs Bunny, in his unapologetic genre of humor, made reference to this event: When Elmer shot holes in Bugs’s mug full of molasses he looked at the viewer and said, “Funny. I never thought molasses would run in January.”

Blackstrap molasses is mostly used in industrial uses (the manufacturing of methanol, curing tobacco, and revitalization of soil and cattle feed for instance) although it is used as a panacea by some people due to its high manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium and low sugar content. It has been reported that blackstrap molasses can cure everything from acne to cancer. This homeopathic remedy hasn’t been proven but it evidently has strong proponents, strong enough to where I won’t make fun of them here. They get really touchy about it.

Molasses was the primary sweetener for the United States until the 20th century when the refining process made plain white sugar dirt cheap and affordable to everyone. Today it is used infrequently and usually only for its unique flavor. My wife uses molasses in a traditional Christmas cookie recipe, which is the only reason it has been in my kitchen until now.

My interest in molasses was piqued when I was at the Twin Pine Casino restaurant Manzanita, where I ordered the buffalo and mahogany wings appetizer. I never had mahogany wings before and thought that they were fantastic. They were so good that I just had to learn to make them at home.

Of the recipes I found and tested this one is what I found to be the best. Some recipes were mild and some were very hot, but everything is better with sriracha sauce! Adjust the hot sauce to your own taste.

Mahogany wings

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup honey

¼ cup molasses

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp ginger, crushed

1 tsp sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce)

10 cooked chicken wings (deep fried is best).

Mix the first six ingredients and heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes so the flavors can meld. Pour the sauce in a bowl and add the chicken wings. Toss until well coated and serve.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

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