When it comes to choosing a sweet syrup for your baking, cooking, or eating pleasure, knowing what the differences are between your options is very helpful. While sorghum and molasses are both delicious syrups, they do differ a fair amount in origin, taste, availability, nutritional makeup, and cost.
We thought we’d spell out many of these differences so that you can make an informed decision about whether to buy and use sorghum syrup or molasses. Or both!
Defining the Differences Between Sorghum and Molasses
Indeed, sorghum and molasses are very different. But once you know what those differences are, you’ll be able to pick the right one for the right food item you are making or eating.
First off, while there are many different plant varieties of sorghum, including those cultivated for cereal grain, livestock feed, and even as renewable fuel, the cane variety is the source for sorghum syrup.
Sorghum cultivation dates back to around 8000 BC in the northeastern region of Africa, namely Egypt. By the 17th century, the grassy, tall stalks of sorghum were being grown in the United States. The stalks, or canes, are crushed to extract the naturally sweet juice. Once the juice is heated, where excess moisture can evaporate, what is left is what we know today as sweet sorghum syrup.
Molasses was first made and utilized in the Caribbean, primarily in the making of rum, but it was also introduced to the States in the early 17th century.
Contrary to sorghum, molasses is a biproduct of sugar-making, either from sugar cane or sugar beets, which ultimately makes it several steps removed from its natural plant source.
The liquid from pressed sugar cane or sugar beets is boiled and results in the formation of sugar crystals. The left-over liquid is boiled a second and a third time, each generating more sugar crystals, as well as a darker and darker molasses syrup.
You’ve heard of blackstrap molasses, right? That generation of molasses is from the third boiling, is the darkest in color, and, it is considered to be bittersweet in taste.
Sorghum and Molasses – What Do They Taste Like?
The differences in appearance, texture, and taste are remarkable when comparing sorghum to molasses.
Unlike sugar cane syrups and corn syrups, sorghum is less sweet. Sorghum is, of course, very nicely sweet, but it also carries a rounded and mellow flavor profile that includes some subtle sour and malty notes.
Visually, sorghum is a dark amber color that could further be described as an almost translucent black-coffee color. Furthermore, sorghum is generally thinner in consistency than molasses, but has a pourability somewhere in between syrups such as honey and maple.
Molasses, because it is a biproduct, or reduction if you will, to the second and third degree no less, does come across as tasting richer and more robust. However, it also tastes somewhat smokey, a tad bitter, and lightly but still noticeably sweet. Both sorghum and molasses taste great, they’re just different. And therefore, it’s up to you to decide which syrup to use for what item you are making or eating.
What is Sorghum Syrup Used For?
In general, sorghum syrup is used as a substitute sweetener for sugar syrup, better known as simple syrup, or for corn syrup, maple syrup, or honey. Since the steps for processing sorghum were at one time cheaper than making other syrups, sorghum was a very affordable and readily available syrup to be used on pancakes, in hot cereals, or as a cooking ingredient for savory dishes and baked goods.
How about using sorghum syrup to sweeten your coffee or tea? And additionally, did you know it can even be used as a sweetener for cocktails?
Can Molasses Be Substituted for Sorghum Syrup?
The most common uses for molasses are any type of gingerbread, or spiced cookies and cakes, as well as in recipes for deeply flavored barbeque sauces and salad dressings.
In other words, molasses packs a flavor punch that is undeniable and familiar. And while molasses can be substituted as a liquid sweetener for sorghum syrup, and vice versa, it is important to understand that in doing so you could lose or gain flavor elements that you do or do not want.
It’s probably best to use molasses in recipes that call for it. But for other recipes, that call for sweeteners like simple syrup, corn syrup, or honey, you would have better success using a substitute like sorghum syrup rather than molasses.
Should you want to use sorghum syrup instead of granulated sugar, it is definitely possible, but you may want to start by swapping out partial amounts.
If a recipe calls for one cup of granulated sugar, you could try using half a cup of sorghum syrup and half a cup of the sugar.
It does get tricky though, for a couple of reasons. As sorghum syrup is not as sweet as sugar, it is generally accepted that you would increase the amount of syrup to sugar by about thirty percent.
Therefore, for every cup of sugar, you could substitute one and one third cup of sorghum syrup. However, since sorghum is a liquid syrup, you would also want to decrease any added liquids like water or milk in your recipe so that your batch is not too runny. The bottom line is that experimentation is going to give you the best information.
Is Sorghum Syrup Healthier than Molasses?
If the flavor, texture, and color differences alone aren’t the deciding factors for which syrup to use, then perhaps knowing how the nutrients of sorghum versus molasses differ will help you determine a winner. It turns out, both sorghum and molasses are fairly nutrient dense, but it’s important to know a couple of possible drawbacks about sorghum:
- Sorghum is sweeter and does contain more calories per a tablespoon serving size, than does molasses, white cane sugar, or maple syrup.
- If you are diabetic, sorghum is not a good sweetener to use as a sugar substitute because it has a relatively high glycemic index compared to other sugar alternatives.
- Also, because sorghum is a cereal grain plant that is in the grass family known as Poaceae, it can be allergenic to some people.
- Since the cultivation and processing of many kinds of sweeteners, including cane sugar, has gotten easier and more prolific over time, sorghum is no longer the only, or most, affordable sweetener. So, if cost is, or was, a primary consideration, it is no longer that much of an issue.
Nutrient-wise, sweetness and calories put aside, sorghum and molasses are fairly dense with similar compounds and minerals.
For instance, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium are all quite present in sorghum and in molasses. But what might be at a higher level in one syrup might be at a lower level in the other, and vice versa.
As an example, the iron levels in both syrups are essentially the same, at about .9 milligrams per tablespoon. However, molasses has about twice as much magnesium, and four times as much selenium, as sorghum does, though sorghum has about twice as much more phosphorous than does molasses.
In the final comparison, molasses is more nutrient dense, and less sweet, but sorghum syrup may very well be more versatile in terms of its application and uses due to its thinner consistency and more neutral flavor profile.
How Long Can Each Be Stored?
As both molasses and sorghum syrup have their place in your pantry, the final question to consider is how long the shelf-life is for each one. Both syrups should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard for easily up to a year. So long as the syrups are not exposed to humidity or light, and their lids are screwed on tightly, sorghum syrup and molasses will not go bad.
If you happen to live in a warm or humid climate, you do want to avoid the possibility that mold could start to grow in your molasses. To avoid mold growth, you can store your molasses in the refrigerator for at least a year or two, maybe even three years. However, when you go to use your molasses, it will be cold and therefore thick, and harder to use. Just bring the molasses to room temperature, or heat it up a bit in the microwave before using, and it should be the consistency you need.
In contrast, sorghum syrup is more shelf-stable than molasses, and less likely to grow mold, however you can also store it in the fridge. Just know that much like honey, sorghum syrup can crystallize when chilled and may need to be warmed up to return to the syrup state that you need. We cover sorghum syrups’ shelf life, steps to revive it if it crystallizes and how to substitute for molasses, honey and sugar in our post Does Sorghum Syrup Go Bad?
So what’s your sweet spot?
Whichever syrup you decide to utilize, both are terrific sweeteners to have on hand. Both sorghum and molasses are nutritious, have a long shelf life and are versatile for your varied cooking and eating needs. Why not keep your options open, and arm yourself with both of these delicious syrups that make great foods even better!