March 8th, 2005


When Molasses Attacks

The other night I bought some molasses ("treacle," to some of you) for use in a brown bread recipe. It occurred to me as I chose the bottle that I know next to nothing about molasses, and whether I wanted blackstrap or unsulphured or what exactly. Up here in the Northwest we don't use a lot of molasses. Ask us about salsa, now, or various types of milk foam used in espresso drinks, and we could talk for hours. But I digress.

Fortunately, I chose unsulphured molasses and not blackstrap--since, having now done the Wikipedia research, I learn that blackstrap is bitter and disgusting; it's sugar-cane juice boiled down several times until most of the sugar has crystallized out, leaving behind the minerals in a sticky black goo. Since blackstrap molasses is high in iron and magnesium, people do use it in health-food recipes, so it is available in the store; but for your brown bread and cookies, you want unsulphured, which is the finest type, made from sun-ripened sugar cane. ("Sulphured," incidentally, is a grade in between: made with unripe sugar cane, and then treated with sulphur during the sugar-crystal-extraction process.)

But at the end of their molasses entry, Wikipedia casually mentions, "A famous incident involving molasses was the Boston Molasses Disaster on January 15, 1919, in which a large molasses storage tank burst and flooded a neighborhood of Boston, killing 21 and injuring 150." The hell you say? In the Northwest, again, while we do get the Boston Tea Party in our grade-school history courses, we do not get the Boston Molasses Disaster, so this was news to me.

Naturally I clicked on it, and, wow.
"The molasses flowed out in a wave between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 to 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (56 km/h) and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft² (200 kPa). Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as the hot molasses crushed, asphyxiated, and cooked many of the victims to death."

Good freakin' Lord.

"To this day, people say that molasses left from this disaster still seeps up from some of the streets on a hot day."

OK, I shouldn't laugh.

Anyway, you should click on it. There's a photo of the aftermath and everything. But be careful out there: as the Atkins Diet folks have long been warning us, sugar products can kill.

*munches on brown bread, reading in fascination*