Fall, to me, is the best time of the year. I love baking, and fall, with it’s cool temperatures, is the best time to bake. It warms the house and smells incredible. In my recipes I use a lot of molasses, but it’s hard to find locally made molasses and when I do, it’s so expensive (although non-local is relatively cheap). So, I set out to learn how to make molasses from sorghum juice. True molasses is made from sugar cane, but sorghum juice boiled down has come to be called molasses as well. That’s what we’re after here.
Why Use Molasses?
Molasses comes from several sources, and all of them have different attributes. Most of them lend moisture to baked dishes like pecan pie and brown bread. It also adds considerable flavor to baked beans. In addition to these, molasses has the following benefits:
- rich in copper
- rich in iron
- low glycemic index (digested slowly by the body)
- natural stool softener for constipation
- high in calcium
- high in magnesium
- high in Vitamin B6
How to Make Molasses From Sorghum Juice
Most commercial molasses is made from sugar cane, which only grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Here in North Carolina, sugar cane may grow well in the summer, but it doesn’t get to the size it needs to produce a lot of juice. So we use sorghum, since it grows well in temperate regions.
Sorghum is a grass that grows well in most climates. “Sugar Drip” and “Rox Orange” are two good varieties and it’s inexpensive to buy these seeds. Plant as you would corn and harvest the canes when ready to make molasses.
Note from Matt and Betsy: If you don’t have access to sorghum, non-local molasses is relatively cheap to purchase. You can find an organic variety here.
- Cut the canes off about 6 inches from the ground. These need to be juiced. Often a crushing mill is used and can sometimes be borrowed from neighboring farms. If you don’t have access to one, a cider press will work as will an herb press. And if you don’t have one of these, you can boil the cane in a bit of water and crush in a chinois, the conical sieve used for straining fruit peels and seeds for jam.
- It takes about 10 gallons of juice to make a gallon of molasses. I keep several gallon jugs on hand when I make molasses. Crush enough cane to make 10 gallons of juice. Then, in a large kettle, start simmering part of it. I start with about 4 gallons. Turn it on low and warm it slowly. Remember, there is a lot of natural sugar in cane juice and it can scorch easily. Bring the juice to a simmer and keep it there for several hours. This can also be done outside to reduce the energy used. I use my firepit and keep it topped off with wood. (Incidentally, I use the wood char for biochar later.) A splatter screen used for frying foods works well to keep any ashes out of the pot.
- As the juice simmers, you’ll notice a foam starting to form on the top. Skim this off. (I keep this foam and add it to water for my plants. Remember, the foam is full of nutrients too.) As the juice starts to reduce, add more until it’s all in the pot. It will be clear or greenish at first, working down to green and then finally to brown. This is a result of the sugars in the cane juice oxidizing. Several factors may play into the color of the juice, including content of the soil, moisture, and even seed variety and quality. So your end product may be different in color. You’ll know it’s done when it no longer tastes like the raw juice and is thick like corn syrup. The end result will be even thicker when it cools. Be sure to bring it all the way to this stage as undercooking it can cause it to spoil and can cause mold to grow.
- When the juice is reduced to about 10% (1 gallon from 10 gallons), it’s ready to can. Pour into clean jars and seal in a hot water bath as you would for canning tomatoes. Then to use, use as you would any other molasses.
Do you use molasses in your cooking? What’s your favorite use for it?