Bead molasses is a thick, sweet syrup that is popular in Chinese cuisine. It adds sweetness and subtle smokiness to food whilst acting as a browning agent. If you haven’t got any, then keep reading to get some handy bead molasses substitutes.
What can I use to replace bead molasses in cooking?
To replace bead molasses we suggest using light molasses, oyster sauce, or hoisin sauce. Pomegranate molasses offers a more tangy, less sweet replacement option in savory dishes.
1. Light molasses
One of the best ways to substitute bead molasses in Asian cuisine is to use a similar amount of light molasses. Both syrups have a comparable flavor profile and color. Try light molasses in your next chop suey or pork chow mein for a delicious sour-sweet flavor.
Keep in mind that bead molasses is a by-product of cooked molasses. It’s made from the scrapings off pan or barrel bottoms at the end of the process. As a result, you’ll find bead molasses is a little darker and smokier with added complexity and richness.
2. Oyster sauce
Oyster sauce brings amazing salty, umami flavor to food like stir-fries and meat marinades. It’s great for adding mouth-watering color to the food it gets mixed with.
The biggest difference between bead molasses and oyster sauce is that the latter has a seafood undertone. Although a lot of this flavor gets cooked out, it still won’t be appropriate for every recipe that calls for bead molasses.
Hoisin sauce is another possibility if you have a bottle in the pantry. Be sure to check out our comparison of oyster and hoisin sauce to find out how they differ.
3. Pomegranate molasses
Pomegranate molasses is a syrup that’s made from boiled pomegranate juice. It is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, used to add a tangy, slightly sweet flavor to food. This is an excellent alternative for dressings, marinades, or splashed into tofu, tempeh, or chicken stir-fries.
Pomegranate molasses has a similar color to bead molasses and can be used in the same savory recipes. However, use it in moderation as its intense sweet-sour flavor profile will quickly overwhelm recipes.
Adding a little sweetener like honey or trimoline will help to offset the tart flavor and provide a substitute that’s closer to bead molasses.
4. Sorghum molasses
Sorghum stalks are crushed into pulp and the juice is boiled in a similar way to molasses. The final product is very sweet with a little sourness to help balance out the syrup. The liquid is lighter in color with a thinner consistency than regular molasses.
Sorghum syrup is good for adding to marinades, dressings, and barbecue sauces. It’s also delicious drizzled over desserts, puddings, cookies, or even cornbread.
5. Golden Syrup
Golden syrup is a useful alternative to bead molasses in baked goods like bread, muffins, and cakes. It’s also great added to marinades that can be coated over pork or duck.
Both ingredients have a similar thick, viscous consistency, although golden syrup is much sweeter and lacks the tart, caramel-like flavor. In savory Chinese dishes, you may want to add a spoonful of tamarind paste or a squeeze of lemon juice.
If you enjoy rich, bitter-tasting food then you may want to use regular treacle or black (dark) treacle. They have a stronger flavor than regular golden syrup but may not be easy to find in stores. If you can find it, squeeze it into baked goods, glazes, sauces, stews, and gravies.
Quick tip: If you’re spooning golden syrup into a measuring cup, spray the sides with oil first. The syrup will pour out of the cup much easier. Get more kitchen hacks here.
6. Brown Sugar
Mixing a liquid like water or stock with brown sugar makes a handy replacement. Molasses contains brown sugar so the sweet, caramel notes are similar. You won’t get the same level of color in Chinese favorites like chow mein, but it’ll still make a tasty meal.
Add a dab of tamarind paste or another type of tangy ingredient to help balance the sweetness.
Honey is one of those ingredients that pair perfectly with Chinese cuisine. Ginger, garlic, chili, and other ingredients popular in Asian cooking benefit from honey.
If you can get your hands on buckwheat honey then give it a try. Its stronger flavor and darker color are closer to bead molasses than the regular varieties.
Like some of the other sweeteners on this list, a punchy tart ingredient will produce a better final dish. Use less honey than you would bead molasses to avoid over-sweetening the meal.
8. Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is a great way to add sweetness to a dish without adding additional flavor. It is a neutral-tasting sweetener that won't contribute any confusing flavors.
For a better result, use a mixture of 2 parts corn syrup with 1 part brown sugar. This mixture will add color and some toasty, caramel flavor to dishes.
If you can’t find corn syrup at your local grocery store, search for glucose syrup. They are very similar.
9. Maple Syrup
Pancakes and waffles aren’t the only use for maple syrup. The syrup’s underlying sweet, caramel flavor makes it an okay bead molasses substitute if you’re in a pinch.
Maple syrup is much runnier than molasses and doesn’t have any tart flavor. Use a little less and add the juice of half a lemon to balance sauces, gravies, and stir-fries.
You could also try agave nectar, aka agave syrup. Use half the amount you would use bead molasses and taste test before adding more.
Commonly asked questions
Can I replace bead molasses with blackstrap molasses?
Blackstrap molasses shouldn’t be used in Asian cuisine as a replacement for bead molasses. It is much saltier and bitter; you’ll get a dish that’s far from what the recipe intended.
Should bead molasses be refrigerated?
Like honey and maple syrup, bead molasses does not need to be refrigerated. However, storing it in the refrigerator will retard mold growth and help maintain quality. Keeping bead molasses in the fridge will thicken its consistency.
Where can I buy bead molasses?
Brands like Dynasty bead molasses can be bought from major chains like Walmart, Kroger, or online from a variety of retailers. You can also try the Asian section of your local grocery store.
Bead molasses is hard to beat for adding color and flavor to Chinese dishes like chow mein or chop suey. It has a unique flavor that is hard to replicate, but substitutes like light molasses, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, or pomegranate molasses will all work well.
To avoid an unpleasant tasting dish, add half of any substitute then taste test before adding more. For most of these replacements on this list, you'll also need to add extra ingredients to balance the dish.