I have recently ventured into cooking and experimenting with blackstrap molasses. It's an ingredient I'm familiar with, but not one I've bought or used for many years.
As far as sweeteners go, blackstrap molasses punches above its weight. It is made from sugar cane after a process of three boilings: the first (boiling juice from the cane sugar) gives cane syrup, the second (boiling the cane syrup) gives a preliminary form of molasses, and the third (boiling molasses) gives what is generally known as blackstrap molasses. By this stage, most of the sugar from the original cane sugar plant has been crystallised and removed through the repeated boiling. Of course, blackstrap molasses is still predominantly sugar - but because the crystallised sugar has been lost, it is higher in vitamins and minerals than many other sweeteners. One tablespoon provides about 3.5mg of iron, which equates to 20% of the daily requirements for adult women. One tablespoon also provides 10-20% of daily requirements for calcium, magnesium and potassium.
If you cook or bake with molasses, it would be difficult to achieve your iron requirements just by substituting molasses in for other sweeteners. It does have a distinctive taste, and if you are baking a plain vanilla cake, using molasses instead of white sugar will probably not achieve your desired outcome. Given it is a sugar variant, relying on it as your main source of iron would also be problematic! However, I am enjoying it as an addition to my pantry and have been adding the occasional tablespoon to oats or smoothies.
These truffle balls are my first foray into using molasses as an ingredient in an actual recipe, and they have piqued my interest in experimenting more. As with all truffle balls, they are easy to make. The flavour is distinctive, with the hazelnuts and molasses each coming through. It is a different sweetness to using dates or agave / maple syrup, but an enjoyable one. I used purple carrots (thus the colour!) and suspect that regular orange carrots would give a slightly sweeter result. However, I liked the depth of flavour and darker tones that came with the purple variety.
I won't go so far as to recommend these as a health treat (aside from anything else, that might put you off). I will, however, promote them as a treat that tastes good and has a high-quality ingredient list.
Carrot-hazelnut-molasses truffle balls
Easy to make and easy to eat; also versatile if you want to change any of the ingredients.
Makes about 16 truffle balls.
1/2 cup grated purple (or orange) carrot (equates to 1 small carrot before grating)
1/2 cup (100g) raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup (50g) rolled oats
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Dessicated coconut, for coating (optional)
Process the hazelnuts and grated carrot in a food processor until the hazelnuts are finely ground. Add the rolled oats, molasses and cinnamon and process until the mixture starts to clump together, about 2 minutes.
Roll into small balls, coat in dessicated coconut if desired, and chill in the fridge for approximately 2 hours before eating. Store in the fridge.
For more information on blackstrap molasses, see its entry on the World's Healthiest Foods list; its mention as a source of iron in the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's article on iron; and Gina's post and raisin-almond-molasses balls at Choosing Raw.
I am sending these to Ricki's Wellness Weekend March 7th to 11th 2013.
Do you use molasses regularly? Or have any favourite ways to use it?