Can you substitute syrup for molasses?

Quick Answer

Yes, you can substitute syrup for molasses in most recipes. The best substitutes are dark corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, or a mix of brown sugar dissolved in water. However, the flavor won’t be exactly the same as molasses has a distinct, robust flavor. You may need to adjust other ingredients like spices to compensate.

What is Molasses?

Molasses is a thick, dark syrup that is a byproduct of refining sugar from sugarcane or sugar beets. It has a very robust, somewhat bitter flavor and is used to add color, richness, and depth of flavor to recipes.

There are several types of molasses:

  • Light molasses – Made from the first boiling of sugarcane juice, it has a mild flavor.
  • Dark molasses – Made from the second boiling, it has a fuller, more robust flavor.
  • Blackstrap molasses – From the third boiling, it has a bitter, acidic taste.

Molasses is commonly used in baking, marinades, barbecue sauces, stews, beans, and desserts. It also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Best Molasses Substitutes

Dark Corn Syrup

Dark corn syrup is one of the best substitutes for molasses in baking recipes. It has a similar thick, viscous texture and deep brown color. The flavor is not quite as strong as molasses, but it has a aromatic, caramel-like taste.

Replace molasses with an equal amount of dark corn syrup. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup molasses, use 1 cup dark corn syrup. You may want to add a small amount of extra spices like cinnamon, cloves, or ginger to mimic the bite of molasses.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup makes an excellent stand-in for molasses in cakes, cookies, breads, and other baked goods. It has a lovely maple flavor that can enhance recipes in a different but complementary way. The color is also very similar to dark molasses.

When substituting maple syrup for molasses, use 3/4 cup maple syrup for every 1 cup molasses. You may also want to reduce any baking soda or baking powder called for by 1/4 teaspoon to avoid over-leavening since maple syrup is slightly acidic.


Honey is a natural alternative to molasses with its thick viscosity and rich flavor. It works especially well in gingerbread, baked beans, barbecue sauces, and vinaigrettes. The mild floral notes and sweetness of honey gives a nice twist to molasses recipes.

Replace molasses with 3/4 to 1 cup honey for every 1 cup molasses. Be aware that honey is thinner than molasses, so you may need to adjust the thickness with a small amount of cornstarch. Reduce baking soda/powder by 1/4 teaspoon.

Brown Sugar + Water

In a pinch, you can make your own DIY molasses substitute by boiling brown sugar in water. Mix 1 cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture. Let cool before using.

This approximation of molasses works well for marinades, baked beans, or stews that will simmer for a while. The flavor won’t have the same depth as molasses but adds sweetness and thickness.

How Molasses Substitutes Affect Baked Goods

When using a molasses substitute in baked goods, keep these tips in mind:

  • Texture – Molasses provides moisture and chewiness. Substitutes like corn syrup or maple syrup will give a similar texture.
  • Moistness – The high moisture content in molasses keeps baked goods like cakes and cookies soft. You may need to adjust the liquids in the recipe if substituting.
  • Color – Molasses lends a dark black-brown color. Corn syrup and honey will replicate this, while maple syrup is slightly lighter brown.
  • Flavor – Molasses has a very unique, robust, slightly bitter taste. Substitutes can mimic the sweetness but won’t replicate the exact flavor.

Due to differences between molasses and substitutes, you may need to tweak the recipe when using a substitute. Test a few batches and adjust spices or liquids until you achieve the desired texture and flavor.

How Does Molasses Taste Different from Other Sugar Syrups?

Molasses has a very distinctive taste compared to other sugar syrups like corn syrup, maple syrup, or honey. Here’s a detailed comparison:

Type Flavor Sweetness Uses
Molasses Robust, slightly bitter Less sweet Baking, stews, sauces
Corn syrup Neutral, sweet Very sweet Baked goods, candy
Maple syrup Maple flavor Less sweet than corn syrup Pancakes, baking, glazes
Honey Floral, light Sweet Tea, baked goods

As you can see, molasses stands out with its very robust, tangy, bittersweet flavor. The other syrups tend to be sweeter and have a more delicate, neutral taste.

How to Adjust Recipes When Substituting Molasses

Here are some tips for adjusting recipes when using a molasses substitute:

  • Reduce baking soda/powder – Molasses is acidic so recipes with molasses often call for more baking soda or powder. Reduce baking soda or powder by 1/4 teaspoon for every 1 cup molasses substituted.
  • Add spices – To mimic molasses flavor, blend in extra spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, or allspice.
  • Adjust sweetness – If using a sweeter substitute, you may be able to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe slightly.
  • Add acid – A small amount of lemon juice or vinegar can replicate the acidic tang of blackstrap molasses.
  • Adjust moisture – Molasses is very moist and often replaces some oil or milk in recipes. You may need to increase liquids slightly with drier substitutes.

Make small adjustments and test the modified recipe. It may take some tweaking to get the right balance of sweetness, moisture, and spice.

What Can You Use Instead of Molasses in Gingerbread?

Gingerbread just isn’t the same without the rich, bittersweet flavor of molasses. But in a pinch, there are several ingredients you can use instead:

  • Dark corn syrup – Replace molasses with an equal amount of dark corn syrup. It has a similar consistency and deep brown color.
  • Maple syrup – Use 3/4 cup maple syrup for every 1 cup molasses. Adds delightful maple flavor.
  • Honey – Substitute 3/4 to 1 cup honey per 1 cup molasses. Adjust wet ingredients as honey is thinner.
  • Brown sugar – Mix 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup water, heated to a syrup. Best for flavoring and moistness.
  • Molasses extract – Add 1-2 teaspoons molasses extract to replicate the flavor.

Be sure to adjust spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves to complement the flavor of the molasses substitute. A bit of espresso powder can also mimic the slight bitterness of molasses.

What’s the Difference Between Molasses and Sorghum?

Molasses and sorghum syrup have some similarities, but also have distinct differences:

  • Source – Molasses is a byproduct of refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Sorghum comes from the sweet sorghum plant, a type of grass.
  • Flavor – Molasses has a very robust, bittersweet flavor. Sorghum is milder in flavor and tends to be sweet-tart.
  • Uses – Molasses is commonly used in baking, sauces, stews. Sorghum is more often used as a table syrup, like on pancakes.
  • Color – Molasses is very dark brown. Sorghum syrup is lighter.
  • Nutrition – Molasses contains iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Sorghum has iron, and small amounts of B vitamins.

So in summary, molasses has a much stronger, more bitter taste than sweeter, milder sorghum. Molasses works better in recipes that need a robust flavor, while sorghum is better as a pouring syrup.

What Can I Substitute for Molasses in Baking?

When baking cookies, cakes, gingerbread, and other goodies, you can substitute molasses with a few different options:

  • Dark corn syrup – Use an equal amount to replace molasses 1:1. Has a similar consistency and flavor.
  • Maple syrup – Replace 1 cup molasses with 3/4 cup maple syrup. Reduce baking soda/powder slightly.
  • Honey – For 1 cup molasses, use 3/4 to 1 cup honey. Helps retain moisture.
  • Brown sugar + water – Simmer 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup water to create a molasses-like syrup.
  • Molasses extract – Add molasses flavor with 1-2 teaspoons molasses extract.

Each substitution will impart its own unique flavor. Maple syrup gives a lovely maple taste, while honey has light floral notes. But none can quite replicate the full-bodied, bittersweet complexity of molasses.

Can I Substitute Molasses for Brown Sugar?

Yes, you can substitute molasses for brown sugar in recipes. Here is how to do it:

  • For every 1 cup of brown sugar, use 1/4 cup molasses.
  • First, measure out the molasses into a measuring cup or bowl. For light or mild molasses, you can use up to 1/3 cup.
  • Add regular granulated white sugar to the molasses until it equals 1 cup total.
  • Mix the molasses and white sugar together thoroughly. The molasses will coat the sugar crystals and give it that light brown color.
  • Use this molasses-sugar blend just as you would use brown sugar in the recipe.

Molasses helps retain moisture in baked goods so you likely won’t need to adjust the wet ingredients in the recipe. However, since molasses is less sweet than brown sugar, you may want to increase the amount of molasses-sugar blend to achieve the desired sweetness.


Molasses can be difficult to replicate exactly, but there are suitable stand-ins like dark corn syrup, maple syrup, and honey that share a similar consistency and deep brown color. When substituting molasses in baked goods, it’s helpful make small adjustments to moisture, leavening, spices, and sweetness to achieve optimal results. While the flavor won’t be an exact match, your gingerbread, cookies, or muffins made with a molasses substitute can still taste fantastic.

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