Why Molasses Is An Important Ingredient For Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread may be synonymous with people-shaped cookies and houses with candy decorations, but the sweet treat has a long, international history, and it hasn't always been associated with Christmas. When you think about the name, clearly gingerbread has an exotic history. Ginger root comes from Asia and is most often used in Chinese, Indian, and other Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern cuisines, according to Many Eats. The root was traded during the days of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, but it wasn't until medieval times that ginger, and consequently gingerbread, became popular in Europe. Many Eats reports that Germans began to bake a similar spiced cookie called lebkuchen in the 13th and 14th centuries. A few centuries later, monasteries and bakeries in Germany were creating gingerbread and ginger snaps.

Germans are also credited with the origin of the gingerbread house in the 16th century, per Always the Holidays. Gingerbread men also first made an appearance in the 16th century, but this time in England when Queen Elizabeth gave them as gifts. After the 1812 publication of the fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel," the popularity of gingerbread houses grew, according to Always the Holidays. Like so many recipes that became popular in the New World, gingerbread came with the colonists (via PBS). In fact, the first cookbook published in the United States, "American Cookery," included recipes for a variety of gingerbread, including the soft loaf version.

The sweet stuff

As the name says, gingerbread does include powdered ginger, in addition to a variety of spices, including vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cloves, per Sugar Spun Run. A classic recipe also calls for brown sugar and molasses. While not commonly used in modern-day America, molasses is key for gingerbread, according to Sugar Spun Run, which gives the treat its authentic gingerbread taste.

When the recipe was first made in the New World, molasses was considered an affordable sweetener, per Southern Living. Gingerbread became a popular dessert in the South because of the affordability of the ingredients, as well as the availability of others, such as butter and eggs. According to Food Network, molasses is made from leftovers. The sweet ingredient is made from sugar cane juice which is the result of white sugar being processed, or it can be made from the processing sugar from beet molasses. Molasses, per Food Network, is thick and dark. While used for its sweetness in gingerbread, in fact, it has less sugar than other syrups. There are also several types of molasses: light, dark, and blackstrap (via Medical News Today). Sugar Spun Run uses "unsulphured" molasses, which is milder than sulphured molasses. And compared to dark or blackstrap molasses, is less bitter.

Don't save gingerbread for a Christmastime treat. Make it any day of the year and bite into some deliciousness.