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Sorghum molasses is a thick sweet syrup made from a large grass plant known as sweet sorghum. Sorghum syrup is poured over biscuits and pancakes, and as an ingredient, the tangy syrup is added to breads, cookies, cakes, candy, and savory casseroles.

In West Virginia, as in other parts of the United States, many rural families relied on sorghum molasses as a sweetener during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After World War II, sorghum was replaced by refined sugar as the primary sweetener, but even today, sorghum molasses has a following. It remains popular because of its long history and excellent flavor. The flavor lies between black strap molasses and light caramel syrup and is far less sweet than honey.

In West Virginia sorghum molasses has also been called molasses, lassies, and sorghums, but today, producers sometimes call their product 100 percent pure sweet sorghum syrup because of the fact that stores now sell ‘‘molasses’’ that are mixtures of corn syrup, flavorings, food coloring, and other additives.

On even the smallest plots, mountain farmers had enough space to plant sweet sorghum. Half an acre of land would produce from 50 to 100 gallons of syrup, and when sorghum was popular it was a valuable cash crop. Sorghum and corn are both grasses, and they grow well in the same soils and climates. Sugar cane, the source of refined sugar, requires a frost-free environment such as that found in the deep South.

Depending on the variety, sorghum grows to a height of five to 15 feet with stalks one to two inches thick. When it matures, the leaves are stripped, and the green sap is pressed from the stalks and run into evaporator pans. The pans are traditionally wood-fired on mountain farms. As moisture evaporates, the sap thickens and becomes sorghum molasses syrup. The process must be carefully attended to avoid scorching, and a green froth is skimmed away as it forms. Molasses ‘‘stir-offs’’ were once popular social events in mountain communities.

The making of sorghum molasses is celebrated at the West Virginia Molasses Festival held annually in late September since 1967 in Calhoun County. The three-day event is described as a ‘‘sticky time for all.’’

This Article was written by Mark F. Sohn

Last Revised on June 23, 2021

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Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Cite This Article

Sohn, Mark F. "Sorghum Molasses." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 23 June 2021. Web. 24 May 2024.


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