It is called kakwi in Marathi, liquid gur in Hindi and molasses in English. Not as common in Indian cooking as its solid counterpart, jaggery, but this ingredient has plenty of taste as well as health properties. It is advocated for pregnant women and those with anemia to get iron in a natural form.There are several forms of molasses but the most popular and healthiest is blackstrap molasses and India is one of the world’s largest producers.

Brown to deep black, the liquid substance is much thinner than honey. It is an item that you rarely have on your shopping list and it is only available in select stores that sell traditional food items. Ask anyone where they got their molasses and chances are they will tell you that they got it from a relative who got it from another relative who knows someone close to its place of production.

Manufacturing
Molasses is made primarily in rural areas by farmers and its manufacture needs quite a bit of experience and expertise. Extracted sugarcane juice is boiled in large tin vessels with extra thick bottoms. It is continuously stirred as to avoid sticking to the bottom. When it is half boiled, the extract of okra stems as well as soda bi-carbonate is added to the mixture allowing unwanted scum or particles to surface to the top. This scum is removed until there is none remaining. When the liquid is yellowish red and thickens molasses is formed. It is taken out before the next step which the making of jaggery. Knowing the precise moment of when to add the okra extract as well as when the jaggery is about to be formed is when the expertise if needed.

In larger jaggery and molasses production plants the milk of lime is used for the clarification of the sugarcane juice. Don’t try to make this at home – firstly you will not find the right type of pan to fit on your stove as they come only in extra large sizes. Secondly unless you take pleasure in standing and stirring for several hours waiting for the perfect moment to add the okra extract and then wait again until the jaggery is ready to form.

Culinary Uses
Molasses imparts a distinct flavor to cakes and cookies such as gingerbread and fruitcake. It can be added as a sweetener to all breakfast cereals, smoothies, milk, Indian sweets and baked desserts.

It comes in handy as a substitute for maple syrup and light corn syrup in certain bakery recipes. The taste of the dish may get slightly altered but you realize that you have created your own special dish. Pecan pie is the perfect example. Indian molasses used instead of dark corn syrup in the traditional pecan pie recipe makes a surprisingly tasty treat, and healthier than one used with corn syrup. Walnuts can be substituted for pecans.

Combined with salt and some spice, molasses brings out a sweet and salty taste which is best used in sauces and for meat marinade. The sweet taste of molasses coupled with bacon or chicken is not something our Indian palates are accustomed to but can easily fall in love with.

In Maharashtra, the largest producer of molasses, the sweetener is primarily eaten with chapathis with a bit of ghee and lemon added. In earlier days molasses and jaggery were the primary sweetening agents in most of the cooking and white sugar was only used in tea, coffee and milk. Over time with changing palates, white sugar is the preferred taste. During Sankranti traditional sweets and bajra rotis are still made with molasses.

Chutney and sambar are not the only added extras to idlis and dosas. In Karnataka tillubella(molasses) is also an accompaniment eaten with many types of dosas and idlis. It is also used as an alternate for jaggery in desserts such as payasams, chiki, and coconut burfis.

Gujratis use it to sweeten dals and some vegetable preparations. In Haryana a special rice dish is prepared with molasses. Children love molasses in Kerala, especially with idils

Health Properties
Unlike refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners this healthy sweetener is full of nutritional value. Two teaspoons of molasses will give you 10-15 percent of your daily requirements of magnesium, copper, manganese, iron, potassium and even calcium. Keep in mind that the calories are the same as white sugar but the positive benefits outweigh the calories in moderate amounts.

Satisfy you sweet tooth the healthy way…keep the liquid gur handy, right next to the sugar so you remember to use it in your cooking in place of sugar.

Recipe – Walnut Pie
Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup Molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell
1 cup good quality walnuts

Directions:
• Combine butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.
• Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and butter melts.
• Cool slightly, and then add beaten eggs, vanilla and salt to mixture.
• Stir well. Add walnuts and mix.
• Pour into unbaked pie shell and top with tin foil.
• Bake 160 degrees celcius for 1 hour. Check if done with placing fork in pie. It is done when fork comes out clean.

Recipe – Molasses Marinade for Chicken(or any other meat)
Ingredients:
1/4 c Molasses; plus 1 tablespoon
1 kilo cut chicken pieces
2 tbsp Fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp Reduced-calorie ketchup
1 tbsp Vegetable oil
2 tsp Dried crushed red pepper
1 tsp Ground cumin
½ tsp Salt
2 minced garlic cloves

Directions:• Combine all ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Marinate chicken for at least 4 hours.
• Put pieces in a roasting pan and cook for 40 minutes in a 180 degrees Celsius preheated oven. Cover the dish with tin foil for 30 minutes and take off for the remaining 10 minutes.

Published in Spice Route Magazine, February 2011