Here, in the States, the term molasses conjures up images of gingerbread cookies and shoofly pie, that thick, dark syrup that’s the result of refining cane sugar. But, in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, molasses is something else entirely – still a syrup, but from sources like pomegranates, dates, grapes, figs, carob, or even mulberries. The process and the flavor are completely different…and delicious.
In the old days, sugar was extraordinarily expensive in regions outside of India, and honey was, let’s say, tricky to procure. During the summer months when sweet fruits were plenty, the fresh juice of these fruits were boiled and reduced down to create intensely flavorful and perfectly sweet syrups, or molasses. These syrups were the ideal sweeteners, capitalizing on peak season fruit, and kept for months. I’m leaving out a great part of all this – they are way healthier than other sweeteners, given that they are fruit-based, and actually contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Grape molasses is one that I happen to love because it’s not overly sweet and has that amazing grape flavor. When I was in Turkey, this lovely syrup, which is also called pekmez, was served at breakfast in lieu of honey. I loved the traditional combo of grape molasses and tahini on flatbread – it was my PB&J for the trip!
There are so many ways to use this stuff. Many simply mix it with water or milk for a great drink, and I’ll be using it to sweeten my flavored lemonades this summer. I do love it on toast with peanut butter or tahini, and it’s incredible with cream cheese on currant scones or drizzled on cinnamon waffles. Beyond all of the sweet dishes, the syrup can be added to stews to add a sweet thickness to them. I used pomegranate molasses, which has a real sweet and sour feel to it, to make some lovely baby back ribs. Think of it like you would honey or molasses.
I pick mine up at an ethnic food store, but I’ve seen this beautiful syrup at Chelsea Market and even a Whole Foods. Have you ever tried any of these fruit-based molasses and how do you use it?