Blackstrap molasses is wintertime ingredient magic. The thick, rich, gooey sweetener is to sugar what stout is to beer.
I like the flavor it adds to homey comfort foods such as baked beans, brown bread, mashed sweet potatoes, cooked carrots, gingerbread, cookies and many others. Better still, this sweetener actually contributes valuable nutrients to your diet.
Exactly what is blackstrap molasses? Its the black-brown liquid byproduct thats produced when sugar cane is refined to make table sugar.
Its old timey the brand in my pantry is called Grandmas. Molasses was a household staple years ago because it was cheaper than white sugar.
Its use in the U.S. dates back to colonial times when molasses was imported from the Caribbean. It was used to make rum and functioned like currency in the Atlantic slave trade.
And in case youre wondering, theres more than one form of molasses. The most nutritious is blackstrap.
Blackstrap molasses is a rich source of iron, calcium, manganese, potassium and several other vitamins and minerals. Other varieties of molasses, including British treacle, vary in color from light gold to dark brown.
A close cousin is sorghum, a familiar food in the Old South. Sweet sorghum is a tall grass processed in a similar way that sugar cane is used to make molasses.
The syrup is lighter and was traditionally eaten on biscuits and pancakes. Ive bought it at a country store on U.S. 321 just south of Blowing Rock.
For flavor and nutrition, though, I like blackstrap molasses the best.
My current favorite way to use it resulted from a recent visit to Rockport, a small fishing community on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. Its the home of anadama bread, delicious yeast bread made with cornmeal, molasses and flour.
You can find recipes for it on the Web, like my husband did, and hes still on an anadama bread baking tear. It freezes well, so you can bake an extra loaf to keep on hand.
Surf the Web for other interesting ways to use molasses, too. A few examples include pumpkin ginger bread, oatmeal molasses cookies, barbecued lentils, acorn squash with rice, pineapple and molasses, and Southern cooked greens with molasses.
Now that I think of it, maybe that sticky stuff on the first Tar Heel could have been molasses.
Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.