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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Molasses

Molasses, also known as black treacle, is a gelatinous byproduct obtained during the process used to make sugar. After the sugar crystals are taken away, the remaining substance is boiled to obtain a brown syrup-like liquid that is called molasses. This substance is used in several recipes and has been promoted by many as a health food. Molasses is found in several variations, subject to the number of times the syrupy liquid is boiled and also what other substances are added to it.

In many countries, people use molasses in the form of a sweetener. In fact, it is a favorite food in several countries, especially in England where the substance is called treacle. For several centuries now, people have been considered that treacle and brimstone or molasses and sulfur possess properties that are beneficial for our health. Occasionally, children were administered varying doses of this product.

During the Prohibition (1920-1933) in the United States, the history of molasses was rather unpleasant. In fact, molasses forms the main base for manufacturing rum. Importing molasses was virtually considered to be the same as bootlegging industry as well as organized crime.

Currently, molasses is used for several beneficial purposes. It is mainly using in baking. You cannot think of your gingerbread to be the same without including molasses. There are many people who take delight in eating hot cereals such as cornmeal mush or cream of wheat with molasses.

Molasses is also used for several other purposes, for instance it is an essential ingredient in traditional pumpkin pie made during the Thanksgiving holiday. People in England, however, do not make treacle tart with molasses. On the other hand, they enjoy molasses in the form of a sweetener on their porridge. Caramel corn prepared at home tastes especially good when you add a spoonful of molasses to the sugar blend.

The nutritional value of molasses is slightly more than that of brown or white sugar. The process involved in extracting and treating molasses uses sulfur and this leads to fortification of essential minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium. Even today, a number of health food experts recommend using molasses for treating various stomach disorders.

Nevertheless, concerns regarding sulfur have resulted in producing several molasses brands that do not contain sulfur. Such sulfur-free molasses are available extensively in natural food stores as well as many chain grocery stores.

The calorie count of molasses is roughly equal to that of sugar - approximately 16 calories in every teaspoon of molasses (5 ml). On the other hand, the sucrose content of molasses is just about half of that of sugar. In addition, molasses also contains fructose as well as glucose. In addition to having elevated levels of iron, molasses also encloses rich amounts of calcium, which has a tendency to prevent the body from absorbing iron. Therefore, it is believed that the health benefits of molasses in the form of a mineral supplement may be somewhat hyped.

Many people enjoy molasses in the form of a sweetener owing to its warm, sweet flavour having a somewhat sharp taste on the tongue. As molasses has a sweet and tangy flavour, its use in baking certainly yields very delicious results.

Types of molasses

There are various different types of molasses, such as light and dark molasses, blackstrap molasses, sulphured and unsulphured molasses, cane molasses and a few other varieties of molasses. Below is brief discussion on each of these molasses types.

Light and dark molasses

The type of molasses that is obtained following the initial boiling of sugar cane or sugar beet is known as light molasses. This variety of molasses has a light hue and sweet flavour as only a little quantity of sugar has been extracted from the juice. Light molasses is known by various names including "mild", "sweet", "first", or "Barbados" molasses. Generally, light molasses is used as a constituent in baking, rubs and sauces, marinades or also for topping oatmeal and toast. When light molasses is added to cookies, it makes them softer, while breads become crustier.

On the other hand, dark molasses is obtained after the second boiling after more sugar has been extracted from the sugar cane or sugar beet juice. This variety of molasses is also called "second" or "full" molasses. Dark molasses is called so because this type of molasses has a darker hue and it is thicker, but is not as sweet as light molasses. Still, you can use dark molasses in any recipe that needs molasses. Commonly, dark molasses is used in making gingerbread cookies.

Blackstrap molasses

It is basically the syrup-like substance that is produce following the third boiling. Blackstrap molasses is not only very condensed, but also has a dark color. The flavour of this type of molasses is bitter and you should not use this molasses as an alternative for other molasses in recipes. It is believed that among the various types of molasses, blackstrap molasses offers the maximum health benefits. It is easily available in several health food stores. It has been found that blackstrap molasses encloses the highest amount of vitamins and minerals among the various other types of molasses, as it has been condensed most by boiling the sugar cane or sugar beet thrice. Blackstrap molasses is considered to be an excellent natural resource of dietary iron. It has been found that one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses encloses about 3.5 mg of iron. In addition, this type of molasses also contains many other vitamins and essential minerals, including vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper and selenium.

Sulphured and unsulphured molasses

You will find that some molasses are labelled as "sulphured" or "unsulphured". Occasionally, sulphur dioxide (SO2) is added to molasses in the form of a preservative, as molasses easily becomes fermented. Adding sulphur dioxide usually alters the flavour of the molasses, making it less sweet. On the other hand, molasses that does not contain sulphur or is labelled as "unsulphured" is usually used in various recipes, as it has the original and sweet flavour of molasses.

Cane molasses

As the name suggests, cane molasses is made from sugar cane. Following the harvesting, the leaves of the sugar cane are removed. Usually, cultivators set their sugar cane fields on fire at the time of harvesting with a view to burn the leaves as well as hound out the snakes, which apparently have a preference for this kind of habitat. Subsequently, the canes are cut into smaller pieces and crushed or mashed to extract their juice. Then the juice is boiled to make it concentrated, which actually promotes sugar crystallization. The first boiling of sugar cane juice yields the first syrup, which has the maximum sugar content. In the southern regions of the United States, people usually refer to the first syrup as "cane syrup" and not molasses.

The sugar cane juice is boiled for the second time to extract more sugar. The resultant residue is called second molasses, which has a somewhat bitter flavor. Blackstrap molasses is produced after boiling the sugar cane juice for the third time. Blackstrap molasses is an American term and has been in use from around 1875. By the time blackstrap molasses is produced, much of the sucrose contained in original juice of sugar cane has already been crystallized and removed. The remaining sugar in blackstrap molasses is responsible for its food energy. Nevertheless, different from refined sugars, blackstrap molasses encloses trace quantities of some vitamins and considerable quantities of many essential minerals. Since long, blackstrap molasses has been marketed in the form of a health supplement. This type of molasses is often used for producing industrial quality ethanol. In addition, it is also used in the form of an ingredient in several cattle feed. Compared to the normal molasses, blackstrap molasses has a significantly intense bitter flavour.

The molasses produced from sugar cane juice is commonly used as an ingredient in cooking and baking.

Other types of molasses

Aside from the different types of molasses discussed above, there is a variety called fancy molasses, which has a very sweet flavor. Fancy molasses is widely used in the form of topping for biscuits or pancakes. This variety of molasses is produced by condensing unadulterated sugar cane juice and, hence, it is not only lightest among the different types of molasses, but is also the sweetest. The type of molasses that is commonly used for cooking is actually a combination of blackstrap molasses and fancy molasses. When cooking molasses is used in different recipes, it reduces the sweetness of baked goods, but their flavor is more like original molasses than that of fancy molasses. Aside from sugar cane and sugar beet, you can make molasses from other products, such as dates, sorghum, pomegranate and carob. In fact, all these are used for making molasses that is especially used in the Middle East cuisines.

Health benefits

Apart from being used as sweeteners, molasses is believed to offer a number of health benefits. For instance, blackstrap molasses contains significant amounts of nutrients required for our body's normal functioning and, hence, it is considered to be a nourishing sweetener. On the contrary, refined white sugar only encloses simple carbohydrates and some other compounds such as aspartame, which is considered to be harmful for our body.

Findings of several researches have revealed that compared to raw cane sugar, refined sugar, corn syrup and other easily available sweeteners, blackstrap molasses encloses the maximum quantity of antioxidants. The antioxidants present in blackstrap molasses help to shield our body from oxidative damages, which is said to be a major factor for developing serious ailments like cardiovascular disorders, cancer and various degenerative diseases. In fact, blackstrap molasses is a superior substitute for refined sugars.

All types of molasses are an excellent natural source of dietary iron and are considered to be beneficial for menstruating women, as many of them face the major risk of suffering from shortage of iron in their body owing to profuse blood loss every month. Since molasses is fat-free and contains just a few calories, compared to other sources like red meat, which contains lots of fat, molasses is considered to be a superior alternative for supplying iron required by your body. When our body has sufficient amounts of iron, it prevents a variety of health conditions, such as menorrhagia, which leads to profuse blood loss for prolonged periods during menstruation. In addition, molasses contains essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are effective in preventing blood clots, alleviate menstrual cramps and, at the same time, aid in supporting the uterine muscles and keep them healthy. Therefore, compared to other available medications, molasses is considered to be a healthy alternative for treating menstrual discomfort. Unlike other medications, use of molasses does not result in any adverse side effect.

Molasses also contains polyphenols that have antioxidant actions and this may be effective in diminishing obesity and, at the same time, help in maintaining a healthy body weight. Trials undertaken to gauze the effect of molasses on a diet rich in fat showed that consuming molasses extract facilitated the body to reduce its weight as well as fat content by lessening calorie absorption.

It has been found that blackstrap molasses contains elevated levels of manganese, a trace mineral. Manganese helps the body to produce healthy sex hormones. In addition, this trace mineral also has an important function in sustaining the normal working of our nervous system. At the same time, manganese prevents formation of unwanted blood clots and energy generation from carbohydrates and protein. Being deficient in manganese may result in infertility, feeble and fragile bones as well as general fatigue.

It is an established fact that molasses is important for treating constipation. Findings of scientific studies have shown that taking milk and molasses enemas on a regular basis is equally effective as sodium phosphate enemas that are administered in the emergency pediatric department to treat constipation. Moreover, it is worth noting that treating constipation using sodium phosphate needs another rectal treatment. On the other hand, another rectal treatment is not required provided you take milk and molasses enemas orally.

In addition, blackstrap molasses is also an excellent natural resource of calcium, which has a vital role in supporting the health of our bones, normal functioning of the body's enzyme system, promoting the functioning of the cell membranes and also elimination of toxic substances from the colon. Calcium is also essential for sustaining the health of our teeth and shielding the body against common diseases borne by the bones during menopause. Aside from promoting healthier bones, calcium is also responsible of contraction of our body muscles.

Several people have effectively used molasses to prepare medications for curing neuralgia and rheumatism. Since molasses possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is a dependable element for treating such health disorders.

Though it may seem incredible to many, blackstrap molasses is also beneficial for people with diabetes, as it helps to stabilize the levels of glucose in the blood stream. The glycemic index of blackstrap molasses is very low and, hence, it helps in inhibiting the metabolism of carbohydrates and glucose, which means less production of insulin. As a result, it prevents the build-up of surplus fats or lipids in the blood. It has been found that molasses contains a significant amount of chromium, an essential trace mineral which plays a vital role in insulin action as well as sustaining the body's glucose tolerance. Findings of several scientific studies have shown that compared to refined white sugar and even brown sugar, molasses encloses the maximum quantity of chromium. Any shortage of chromium in our body can lead to weak glucose tolerance, thereby promoting diabetes. When this occurs, it may signify a grave risk of developing other ailments such as cardiac disorders, blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis.

In addition to chromium, molasses also enclose another essential mineral - potassium, which is necessary for the normal functioning of the cells in our body. At the same time, this mineral helps to preserve the normal acid-base equilibrium in our body and puts off heat exhaustion. Moreover, potassium also has a vital role in the functioning of our nervous system and it helps in muscle contraction, thereby ensuring that our cardiac health is in excellent condition. Intake of sufficient amounts of foods rich in potassium, such as molasses helps to put off health conditions such as hypokalemia. It also lowers high blood pressure.

Molasses also offers several other health benefits, including alleviating the problems caused by acne. Molasses encloses lactic acid, which is effective in alleviating symptoms related to acne. This particular compound is produced by lactic acid bacteria and has a vital function in metabolism of carbohydrates. Lactic acid is used effectively to prepare nature, non-allergic and non-toxic remedies of a physiological sort to cure acne as well as treat various other skin conditions. In addition to molasses, lactic acid is also found in apples, sour milk and tomato juice.

Traditionally, many people have also been using molasses for healing wounds and skin burns. This substance is known to possess effective wound healing properties. At the same time molasses also encourages growth of healthy tissues. As molasses contains a wide variety of essential minerals, it works excellently in the form of a potent healer.

Molasses is loaded with copper, an essential mineral that helps in eliminating free radicals from our body. Use of this substance also aids in absorbing iron and red blood cell (erythrocyte) formation, besides maintaining the health of our immune system. Any shortage of copper in body may lead to health conditions like anemia, cardiac arrhythmia, thyroid problems and even osteoporosis.

As molasses contains considerable amounts of iron, ingesting it helps to preserve a healthy level of hemoglobin in our body. Hemoglobin plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen from the lungs to several parts of our body. In addition, oxygen is also necessary for energy production, while it helps in sustaining a healthy metabolism.

Occasionally, people also refer blackstrap molasses as pregnancy tea, because it contains significant amounts of iron, vitamin B (folate) as well as other essential minerals. Consuming molasses during pregnancy also supplies the would-be mother with calcium, a mineral that is necessary for the growth as well as development of the still born baby.

The magnesium content of molasses makes it an useful food for the nervous system - magnesium ensures the normal functioning of this vital organ of our body. This mineral also helps to ensure that our nerves as well as blood vessels are relaxed, as it balances the amount of calcium by blocking it from dashing into the nerves. Unrestrained as well as quick calcium flow into the nerves may often make them over activated and result in the transmission of excessive signals and also too many nerve contractions. Any shortage of magnesium in our body may also cause a number of disorders such as spasms, muscle cramps, high blood pressure and physical exhaustion.

As discussed earlier, blackstrap molasses is also an excellent resource of an assortment of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid. Deficit of these vitamins in our body may lead to headaches, fatigue, asthma and stress. Consuming molasses on a regular basis would prove to be helpful in supplying these essential vitamins and minerals that ensure an overall good health.

Apart from containing many vitamins and minerals, blackstrap molasses also encloses the trace mineral selenium that has been found to be useful in treating cancer.

Extracts obtained from molasses are excellent for our hair, as they encourage healthy growth of hair. These extracts also make the hair softer and condition them, by adding rich texture and preventing it from greying prematurely.

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