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This is another one of those “minefield” ingredients. Strictly speaking, Treacle is the British generic name for any syrup made during the refining of sugar cane. Therefore, theoretically,  Treacle, Black Treacle, Molasses, Golden Syrup and Blackstrap are all treacles


In practice however,  there is a technical difference between  “treacle” and “Molasses” in that molasses is obtained from the drainings of raw sugar during the refining process and treacle is made from the syrup obtained from the  sugar.


In an effort to simplify matters, rather than start with the history of treacle, as with most of the Ingredient of the Month features, we are going to start with how the various treacles are obtained. The various types of treacle and Molasses are, in culinary terms, completely substitutable. Only the type of treacle/molasses used is of any importance when cooking.



How Treacle is Made - Production/Processing


As mentioned above, treacle is a by product of sugar refining.  During the refining process, raw sugar cane is first crushed then boiled in stages until it has thickened sufficiently to facilitate the growing of sugar crystals which will eventually become refined sugar. There are two main types of treacle:-



Light Treacle better known as Golden Syrup (equivalent = Light Molasses), is made from the syrup obtained during the first boiling of the sugar cane/beets. About 65% sucrose, it is the lightest in colour and the sweetest of all the treacles and is usually unsulphered.


Black Treacle, (equivalent = dark molasses)  is made from the syrup obtained from later boilings and is about 55% sucrose. 


Origin and History of Treacle


Treacle was originally the name of a medicinal mixture which was most likely used as an antidote against poisons, in particular venomous bites.  The name is derived from Old French  triacle, in turn from Latin theriaca  meaning “antidote to poison”. This medicine originally had honey as its base, but at some point the honey was replaced with treacle. 


Over time the  pharmacological meaning died out, and around the 17th century in Britain the word ‘treacle’ took on its present day meaning, and was used chiefly as a cheap form of sweetener. Interestingly enough, name ‘molasses’ comes from the Portuguese word melaço which is derived from the Latin mel, meaning honey.


The increase in free man power (i.e. slavery) in the British colonies in the mid/late 1600s enabled cane to be gathered and processed more economically and by the late 1700s, refined sugar became affordable to the masses in Britain and overtook treacle as a general sweetener. By the mid 1800s  treacle was used more as an ingredient in recipes, giving certain added qualities (colour, taste, moisture etc) to dishes.



How to cook with Treacle



  • When measuring out treacle, lightly coat the measuring utensil with a bland vegetable oil so it slips off the spoon or out of the measuring cup more easily. Alternatively, dip the measuring utensil in hot water before measuring.

  • Baked goods using Black Treacle tend to darken more quickly

  • In most recipes, do not substitute Black Treacle for Golden Syrup as the flavour will be too overpowering.

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Golden Syrup has a clear golden colour and a sweet, rich, distinctive buttery flavour. It can be used just as it is, spread on bread or poured ice cream or pancakes, but in Britain has always been widely used baked goods and desserts, in particular the famous treacle tart, flapjacks and treacle pudding. It can also be used in many savoury recipes calling for sweetness, in particular sauces and glazes.  It can be used as a substitute for corn syrup in most recipes.


Black Treacle has a slightly burnt caramel flavour that is a bit stronger than that of medium molasses. As the name would suggest, it is black (to all intents and purposes). It is most often used in confectionery such as toffee and baked goods such as breads, cakes and biscuits where it lends colour and flavour, but can also be used in savoury recipes such as glazes, sauces and stews or casseroles. It can be used as a substitute in most recipes calling for dark molasses.



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