The Ingredient That Makes Boston Baked Beans Special

There are regular baked beans from a can and then there's the magic of Boston baked beans. Slowly simmered in water, sweetener, spices, and salted pork, per Taste of Home, these baked beans maintain the perfect balance of salty and sweet. Just don't confuse them with the sweet and crunchy Boston baked beans candy, which are peanuts covered in sugar, corn syrup, and confectioner's glaze per the Ferrara Candy Shop.

But what makes Boston baked beans so special? Is it the addition of herbs like rosemary or thyme, the Dijon mustard, or the addition of veggies like carrots, onions, and garlic cloves (via Serious Eats)? Or, perhaps it's the use of white navy beans, which are rich, hearty, and provide a plethora of health benefits, like weight loss and improved memory, per Style Craze.

These ingredients all aid in decadent Boston baked beans, but it's a certain kind of sweetener that really "sweetens the deal" here. Can you guess what it is?

It's not honey, granulated sugar, or maple syrup

If you're familiar with brown sugar, then you might have noticed its brown hue, super soft texture, and sweetened scent (per Food Insight). You can thank molasses for that. In fact, you can find molasses in European speculoos cookies, yeast, and citric acid, according to Molasses For Food. Food Insight describes molasses as a type of sugar that is similar to honey and agave syrup in texture, but much thicker and nutrient-dense. But how does this dark-colored syrup enhance a pot of Boston baked beans?

For starters, it helps to maintain the firmness of baked beans because it's rich in calcium, per MasterClass. Serious Eats piggybacks on this point by explaining that the calcium makes the cellular walls of beans stronger, which makes them less prone to breaking down and becoming mushy. And according to Bakerpedia, molasses also imparts a beautifully rich hue to baked beans, as well as less pronounced notes of sweetness (Food Insight states that molasses doesn't have the same level of sweetness as regular sugar). Translation: your baked beans won't be cloyingly sweet if you use molasses rather than granulated sugar or maple syrup.

Making Boston baked beans is pretty easy. Just be sure to stick to traditional recipes that call for molasses to get those rich, tasty, and subtly sweet flavor notes.