The Sweet Details of Treacle, Britain’s Favorite Syrup

By: Alia Hoyt
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In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” you may recall the Queen of Hearts made some tarts. But what kind of tarts were they? If you believe the Dormouse, they were treacle tarts. Harry Potter’s favorite dessert was treacle tart as well. But what’s treacle anyway?

“Treacle is the uncrystallized syrup that remains after sugar is refined. The ‘refiner’s return syrup’ is heated to recover the sucrose after a lengthy refinement process,” says Barry Tonkinson, director of culinary research and development at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, in an email. “After this process, what is left is deemed treacle.”

Ragus Sugars Manufacturers in England describes the process this way: Sugar is, of course, made from sugar cane. The juice from the cane is boiled, which causes sugar crystals to form and leaves behind a concentrated sugar syrup, called refiner’s syrup. After the third and final boiling, the left-behind syrup is called molasses. Once the molasses is filtered and purified, it is blended with refiner’s syrup to make black treacle.

Similar to American molasses, treacle is a beloved ingredient in British baking and cooking, particularly when it comes to cakes, biscuits, pies, puddings, porridge and flapjacks. The syrup can even be used in marinades, as well as in some cocktails and hot beverages! Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a British kitchen that isn’t stocked with the stuff.

“For most British people, the distinct green tin of Abram Lyle & Sons Golden Syrup or the red tin of Lyle’s Black Treacle is a staple in their home,” says Tonkinson.

In fact, the “gloopy” syrup was originally sold by the barrel just to Lyle’s workers, as it was thought to have little value. (Scotsman Abram Lyle owned a refinery that processed sugar cane into sugar). Before long, word spread of the stuff, however, and Lyle’s Golden Syrup launched in 1883.

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Thick and sticky, treacle’s consistency lies somewhere between a truly watery liquid and a solid. There are two main types of treacle: golden syrup and black treacle.

Golden syrup: This is the sweeter of the two, known for its buttery taste and golden amber color, which deceives people into thinking it tastes like honey. In fact, it is much more akin to caramel or butterscotch. “It flows much more readily than honey and can be tricky to weigh and measure,” Tonkinson says. This type is equivalent to American light molasses. Treacle tart is traditionally made with this kind of syrup.

Dark treacle: Also known as black treacle or blackstrap molasses, this version is much stronger in flavor. “It is best combined as part of a batter along with another sweetener to avoid an overly bitter taste,” says Tonkinson. Dark treacle is responsible for the caramelly rich flavor found in foods like toffee, fruit cakes and other sweets.

“Black treacle is a vital ingredient in my Christmas cake recipe,” says Josette Crane, from the town of Keynsham in southwest England. “I only use it once a year but it adds sumptuousness to the cake that no other ingredient can give.”

Treacle is, of course, super-sweet. Two tablespoons (about 43 grams) of black treacle will have 41 calories, 11 grams of sugar and 11 grams of carbs. But it is also full of minerals like manganese, iron, copper, magnesium and calcium.

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You probably could make your own treacle, in much the same way as you could grind your own flour or churn your own butter, but it’s much easier to simply purchase a bottle or tin and be done with it. Lyle’s is the largest producer of treacle in the world, shipping out more than a million tins of the sticky stuff every month.

Adventurous chefs can still give it a shot, though. Here’s a quick and relatively easy way to make homemade treacle from Steve’s Kitchen:

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At this point, Steve’s Kitchen suggests checking to see if the treacle is the correct consistency. Do this by getting a pan lid. Then drop a small amount of treacle onto it. Allow to cool. Once it’s cool it should be thick and sticky. If it’s not thick enough, keep simmering a bit longer. If it’s too hard, add more water and stir.

And if you’d like to try your hand at treacle tart, the BBC has a recipe.

Treacle was originally used as a remedy against poison. The name comes from an ancient Greek word thēriakē, when meant “antidote against venom.”

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The Sweet Details of Treacle, Britain’s Favorite Syrup

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