Whether you use molasses for baking on a regular basis or it tends to sit in the back of your cupboard, undisturbed, for months or even years at a time, you might be wondering, does molasses go bad?
The short answer is that, yes, it can – but it’s going to take a very long time to do so.
Molasses isn’t an ingredient that is used in very many recipes, so in all likelihood, it sits in your cupboard for an extended period of time before being fully used up. If you’re wondering how to determine whether molasses has gone bad, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Molasses?
Molasses is a popular sweetener that is made by extracting sugars from sugar beets and sugarcane. It’s dark, syrupy, sweet, and thick, and is found primarily in the Caribbean and the southern United States.
Although molasses was a popular sweetener in the 1900s, it’s still used to some extent today in most households (usually for old-fashioned recipes and holiday goodies like gingerbread). It has a dense, intense sweetness that is perfect for rich, decadent recipes.
There are several types of molasses, including flight, dark/medium, and blackstrap molasses. Light molasses is molasses that hasn’t been boiled quite as long as the other types. It is the lightest in color and has the highest sugar content. It is also the least viscous.
Dark molasses, often referred to as medium molasses, is produced after an additional cycle of boiling. It is darker and thicker than light molasses and also contains less sugar. The final type of molasses, blackstrap, has the least amount of sugar and is practically black. It has a spicy flavor that is not quite as sweet as the other two.
Molasses can be purchased as sulfured or unsulfured. Sulfur serves as a preservative when used in molasses but it has a tendency to leave behind a bit of an aftertaste. Sulfured molasses may last slightly longer in storage than unsulfured molasses, but the differences are usually negligible and not anything you need to worry about.
What is the Shelf Life of Molasses?
Determining the shelf life of molasses can be difficult, especially when you consider that although most bottles come with a date, it’s not an expiration date. Instead, most bottles of molasses are equipped with best-by dates.
How Long Does Molasses Last?
Best-by dates don’t tell you the date at which molasses is no longer safe to eat but instead serve as an informed guess of when the product will begin to diminish in quality.
Typically, the best-by or sell-by labels on a jar of molasses are only indicated for about two years out. However, molasses usually stays safe to consume long past the date on the label. If there is no date, you can usually eat it for at least two years after the initial date of purchase.
In most cases, these dates have very little to do with how safe the molasses is, but more to do with its flavors. Its quality can diminish over a period of two or more years, but it will likely be such a small decline that you won’t notice it.
Generally speaking, unopened molasses lasts two or more years while opened molasses should be used in about a year.
How to Store Molasses
Molasses should be stored in exactly the same way you would store other liquid sweeteners, like maple syrup or even honey. Stash it in a cool, dry place, like a pantry or a dark cupboard.
The exact location doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it should not get any direct sunlight, nor should the temperatures fluctuate to any extremes.
Once you open the bottle, you can keep it in the cupboard, but it needs to remain tightly sealed. When you replace the cap after using some molasses, screw it on until it is fingertip-tight.
Does Molasses Need to Be Refrigerated?
You don’t need to refrigerate molasses after you open it, although many people do. Why? Molasses that are stored in the refrigerator tend to stay fresher and of a higher-quality for a bit longer.
However, one thing you will want to keep in mind when storing molasses in the refrigerator is that cold temperatures cause molasses to become very thick and not very viscous.
While it is of course still safe to use at this viscosity, it can be more difficult to use. However, if you want to store your molasses in the refrigerator, simply heat it up before using it.
Either take it out of the refrigerator a few hours before you need to use it or put the entire bottle in a pot of warm water to heat it quickly. Try to avoid microwaving it as it can cause some of the sugars to crystallize or separate.
How To Tell if Molasses Has Spoiled
Molasses, like most liquid sweeteners, does eventually spoil – but it’s going to take a long time to do so (we’re talking ten to twelve years).
The easiest way, of course, to figure out if your molasses has spoiled is to think about when you bought it. If it was sometime within the last decade, you’re probably safe. If you don’t remember when you bought it, that will, of course, be a bit more challenging!
However, there are some easy signs you can look for to tell if your molasses has spoiled. For starters, spoiled molasses will usually have tiny spots of mold or a funky flavor. The mold spots are usually quite small, so you’ll need to have an eagle’s eye to spot these.
It’s important that you do, though, because bits of mold can make you quite sick.
You should also keep an eye out for an unpleasant smell. If it tastes odd or unlike molasses in any way, it’s time to ditch it for good. Make sure you taste it before you add it to your recipe, too, so you don’t have to worry about throwing out an entire batch of gingerbread!
Long story short, if something seems off, it probably is. You should be able to trust your gut when it comes to determining whether your food is bad, and molasses is one of those foods that will send you pretty strong signs that it’s no longer fresh.
Yes, you can. Like most other baking products, molasses tend to have a best-by or sell-by date instead of an expiration date. Therefore, molasses is safe to use even after this date (which is not the same as the expiration date) has passed.
If not stored properly, molasses can develop some odors. It can also begin to crystallize so that it isn’t easy, easy or desirable to use. However, if you eat bad molasses, you probably aren’t going to notice any effects besides perhaps a bit of an upset stomach.
There have been no severe cases of illnesses related to eating bad molasses and you’ll likely know it’s off as soon as you start eating it and will stop before it causes much harm, anyway.
Molasses naturally has a sweet, pleasant taste. It can sometimes also smell earthy and sour. A bit of pungency isn’t anything to worry about, nor is a bit of a sulfur smell (especially if it’s sulfured molasses).
However, if it smells rotten and off-putting, you may want to toss it – it has probably gone bad.
You can store molasses in the freezer, but in most cases, it will not freeze solid. It has sugars that act as an anti-freezing agent and effectively lower the freezing point of the “goo.” Once you remove the molasses from the freezer and begin to thaw it out, the liquid will be a bit grainy with sugar crystals.
Honey has an unlimited shelf life and does not spoil. This is because honey has a very low water content – just 17% – which is much lower than what fungi and bacteria need to thrive. These dry conditions help to dehydrate bacteria and make the mixture resistant to spoiling. It also has an acidity level that is not favorable to most bacteria.
Molasses, on the other hand, has a water content of about 22%. Although that doesn’t seem like that much more, it makes a big difference in the shelf life of the two different products.
*Photo by neillangan/depositphotos