So. Treacle. Or Treakle. And treakyll. Tryacle. And so on. Just
what is it? Well, I’ve always been told, first and foremost, that
it’s a British term, and then one of the following: “just substitute
molasses for it”; or, “it’s the same as molasses.” Now, does that
mean they’re similar or that they’re different?
In any event, I decided to do a bit of research on the subject.
I began by consulting my nearly three-decades-old Webster’s
Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary, and found it basically says
treacle IS molasses. Definitions in glossaries of several
historical cookbooks agree. One or two books devote more
space to it, from a few paragraphs to an entire page. Most
allude to its use medicinally, its eventual role as a replacement
for honey, and its origins in the manufacture of sugar. They
remain fairly silent, though, as to whether or not treacle
and molasses are the same or different.
I then came upon a British website that discusses the origins
and the uses of treacle. While admitting that the ingredient is
a real “minefield,” it first states that “strictly speaking,” it’s a
generic term for any syrup resulting from the refining of sugar
cane. It then states:
In practice, however, there is
a technical difference between
treacle and molasses in that
molasses is obtained from
the drainings of raw sugar
during the refining process
and treacle is made from
the syrup obtained from
Finally, I turned to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It makes a similar
distinction between treacle and molasses. According to the OED, treacle is:
the uncrystallized syrup produced
in the process of refining sugar;
also sometimes extended to
the uncrystallizable syrup that
drains from raw sugar.
I think that’s similar to what’s on the previously mentioned website,
yes? Or maybe not. But then, at the end:
= Molasses 1.
A-ha! So, look under “Molasses 1.” and we find:
the word is rare in British use,
but in the U.S. is commonly
used promiscuously with treacle.
Well! Aren’t we! Stupid, “promiscuous” Americans!
But finally, the OED gets down to the nitty-gritty:
In technical language, molasses
is applied to the drainings of raw
sugar and treacle to the syrup
from sugar in the process
OK. Now I understand. I think! Both molasses and treacle are
by-products of the sugar making process, but there IS a difference,
depending on from where within the entire process each particular
liquid is acquired. And I gather that molasses results from the first
draining, and treacle from a later one.
(Yes? No? If anyone has other ideas, please share!)
Okay. When all is said and done, who cares? Well, I do. If you recall,
I stated previously that I wanted to make a dish that included treacle
as an ingredient. Well, by golly, Hannah Glasse’s Ginger-Bread Cakes,
from her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, fit the bill. Of
course, wanting to do justice to her receipt, and to be as historically-
accurate as possible, I knew that only genuine, bona-fide treacle
would suffice. None of that molasses stuff that we Americans
“promiscuously” use as a substitute! The next step was to find
treacle, but that part was actually easy. I knew that one of my
local supermarkets, oddly enough, stocks it. Yep, there on a set
of shelves at the end of one aisle (otherwise known as the “British
section”), in amongst the Marmite and the marmalades, is good
ol’ authentic, made-in-Britain treacle. HUZZAH!
Incidentally, although they may or may not be interchangeable,
the taste of each is, indeed, a bit different. At least, to me. I find
treacle to be more bitter than molasses, almost unbearingly so.
I’d say molasses is the sweeter of the two. Which makes sense,
perhaps, if I’m correct in thinking molasses is extracted first.
Of course, treacle still shows up every now and then. As many
of you know, Harry Potter likes treacle tarts. And then there’s
that beloved childhood nursery rhyme, “Pop Goes the Weasel”:
Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.