The Sticky Ingredient Carla Hall Uses To Honor African-American Cooking

If you love making desserts at home, chances are you rely on a rotation of sweeteners to flavor your cakes, quick breads, and cookies. Good ol' granulated and brown sugars certainly have their place in the kitchen, but syrups such as honey, maple, and agave can bring their own unique flavors and textures to baked goods.

And then there's molasses, that deep, dark, almost bitter syrup created as a byproduct of sugar cane processing. A common ingredient in holiday baking staples such as gingerbread and gingersnaps, molasses brings intensity of flavor and even a slight smokiness to desserts. It also provides a boost to many a savory dish. Often found in baked beans as well as in many types of BBQ sauce, there's one dish in which chef and "Top Chef" alum Carla Hall loves to feature the stuff: Her molasses- and orange juice-glazed chicken wings. And according to Hall's Instagram post, part of her reason for calling upon this sticky ingredient is to honor its traditional role in African-American cooking.

Molasses has long been used in Southern cooking

That sweet, sticky syrup that many of us know and love has been a staple ingredient in the American South since as early as the 1800s. In that century, sugar plantations started springing up all across the region, but primarily in Louisiana, where the New Orleans sugar planter Étienne de Boré was one of the first to cultivate the plant beginning in 1795. Cheaper than white sugar — as it was a byproduct of processing those pretty crystals — molasses was once the American sweetener of choice, particularly in the South.

Blackstrap molasses, which comes from the third boiling of the juice produced by crushing sugar cane, was the most bitter, and therefore the cheapest molasses. As such, it was commonly used by slaves of the time in cooking and in sweetening foods and drinks. The syrup's long history of use within the Black community and its storied foods is cited by chef Carla Hall as one of the reasons she works it into a sweet glaze for chicken wings, as she noted on Instagram.

"Did you know that molasses has a long history as a staple sweetener in African-American cooking?" Hall writes. "If you're looking for the perfect way to celebrate our ancestry ... these molasses baked chicken wings will be a game winner! Right amount of sticky, with a perfect hint of spicy sweet."