Is ribbon cane syrup the same as molasses?

Ribbon cane syrup and molasses are similar sweeteners that are both made from sugarcane, but they have some key differences. In this 5000-word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how ribbon cane syrup and molasses are produced, how they taste, their nutritional profiles, and how they can be used in cooking and baking.

Production Methods

Both ribbon cane syrup and molasses are made from sugarcane, but the production processes are different.

Ribbon Cane Syrup

Ribbon cane syrup is made by crushing freshly cut sugarcane to extract the juice. The juice is boiled down in open kettles into a thick, golden syrup. The syrup is stirred constantly during the boiling process, which gives it a smooth, glossy texture reminiscent of ribbon. That’s how ribbon cane syrup gets its name.

Ribbon cane syrup is made in small batches on family farms in the Southern United States. It’s a traditional, artisanal process that’s labor-intensive and time-consuming. Freshly pressed cane juice begins to ferment quickly, so ribbon cane syrup has to be made on-site at sugar mills before the juice spoils.


Molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar production. After sugarcane is crushed to extract the juice, the juice is boiled to concentrate it into syrup. The syrup is then centrifuged to separate out pure sucrose crystals, which are refined into white sugar. What remains after the sugar crystals are removed is molasses.

Unlike ribbon cane syrup, which is simply boiled sugarcane juice, molasses has already had most of its sucrose content removed. Modern commercial molasses is made from the syrup left over after the third cycle of sugar crystallization, resulting in a thick, dark, somewhat bitter syrup.

Flavor Differences

Since they undergo different production processes, ribbon cane syrup and molasses have distinct flavors:

Ribbon Cane Syrup

– Sweet, with subtle caramel and vanilla notes

– Milder taste than molasses

– Golden color


– Robust, bittersweet flavor

– Strong notes of anise, rum, and smoke

– Very dark brown or black color

Ribbon cane syrup has a round, mellow sweetness reminiscent of honey or corn syrup. Molasses is much more robust, with a slightly bitter edge and stronger savory undertones. The difference stems from molasses having more impurities and a higher mineral content after multiple rounds of sugar extraction.


Both ribbon cane syrup and molasses provide some nutrition in addition to sweetness.

Nutrient Ribbon cane syrup (in 2 tbsp) Molasses (in 2 tbsp)
Calories 116 114
Total sugars 29 g 28 g
Calcium 43 mg 148 mg
Iron 0.5 mg 1.9 mg
Potassium 100 mg 499 mg
Magnesium 8 mg 34 mg

Calorie and sugar content is very similar between the two. However, molasses contains significantly more minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. This is because the process of removing sugar crystals from sugarcane juice concentrates the minerals in molasses.

The higher mineral content gives molasses a slight nutritional advantage over ribbon cane syrup. However, both provide some nutrients in addition to sweetening food.

Culinary Uses

Ribbon cane syrup and molasses work well as substitutes for each other in recipes, with some caveats around flavor.


– Ribbon cane syrup can be used as a 1:1 substitute for molasses in cookies, cakes, breads, and other baked goods. It will provide sweetness without the intense molasses flavor.

– Molasses’ robust flavor can overpower more delicate baked goods. Use it sparingly or in recipes designed specifically for molasses.

– Reduce oven temperature by 25°F when using molasses, as it can cause baked goods to brown faster than recipes intend.

Savory Cooking

– Molasses’ depth of flavor makes it better suited to savory glazes, sauces, stews, and marinades.

– Ribbon cane syrup can work in savory applications but may provide one-dimensional sweetness rather than complex flavor.

– Use molasses or a blend of molasses and ribbon cane syrup for iconic dishes like baked beans, molasses pork ribs, or gingerbread.


– Ribbon cane syrup is the traditional sweetener for sweet tea in the Southern U.S. Its clean sweetness balances the tannins in black tea.

– Molasses adds robust, almost smoky flavor to cocktails like rum old fashioneds. It also works in warm beverages like molasses cider.

The takeaway is to use ribbon cane syrup when you just want added sweetness and molasses when you want a hit of savory, intense flavor. You can blend the two in proportions to strike the right balance.


Due to differences in production methods, molasses tends to be cheaper than artisanal ribbon cane syrup:

Sweetener Average Price (USD)
Ribbon cane syrup $9-12 per 16 oz bottle
Molasses $3-6 per 16 oz bottle

However, prices can vary depending on brand, source, organic certification, and whether you buy direct from a farm vs. a supermarket. Buying in bulk can also lower the per-unit price of either sweetener.


The limited production of ribbon cane syrup makes it harder to find than commercially produced molasses:

– Ribbon cane syrup is only made in Gulf Coast states like Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Look for it at specialty grocery stores or farmers markets in those regions.

– Outside of the South, ribbon cane syrup may only be available seasonally or by mail order. It has a relatively short shelf life of 1-2 years.

– Molasses is available year-round across the United States and beyond. Look for it in the baking aisle of any major grocery store.

If you can’t find ribbon cane syrup locally, molasses makes a readily available substitute in recipes calling for it. The flavor won’t be an exact match but the overall sweetness will be similar in most applications.


There are environmental tradeoffs to consider with both sweeteners:

Ribbon Cane Syrup

– Made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice, so no additives or preservatives

– Small-scale production uses less energy than large factories

– However, sugarcane farming can contribute to deforestation and pollution


– Made from sugarcane waste, so very sustainable usage of the crop

– But energy-intensive industrial methods used to extract sugar

– Ensuring ethical, eco-friendly sugarcane farming key for either sweetener

On balance, molasses may have a slight edge because it utilizes what would otherwise be waste from sugar production. But artisanal ribbon cane syrup, often organic, has sustainability benefits via small-scale production.


While both originating from sugarcane, ribbon cane syrup and molasses have unique flavors, nutrition, price points, availability, and environmental impacts. Ribbon cane syrup offers mild sweetness perfect for baking and beverages. Molasses’ intense flavor makes it ideal for savory glazes and sauces. Both can add flavor and minimal nutrition to dishes.

Ribbon cane syrup is limited in availability outside Gulf Coast states, where it’s a heritage product. Widely available molasses can substitute in most recipes calling for ribbon cane syrup. When choosing between the two, consider your flavor needs, recipe, and ability to source ribbon cane syrup locally if you want that iconic Southern taste.

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