A Sticky History: From The Great Molasses Flood to Modern Molasses Beer

January 8, 2019 | , , ,
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Molasses in Boston Food and Drinks

January 15th, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of The Great Molasses Flood in Boston’s North End. While this is an important piece of Boston history to acknowledge, we are certainly not breaking out the streamers. It’s actually a sticky subject, literally and figuratively. On January 15th, 1919 a 50-foot steel tank on Commercial Street filled with molasses burst open and a violent wave of molasses flowed through the streets at 35 miles per hour, devastating the city and taking the lives of many in its path. It took quite a bit of time to recover from this disaster and even when the clean up was complete the streets of the North End still held onto the sweet smell of the sticky syrup and Boston Harbor’s water remained brown.

Even before that unfortunate day, molasses was already present in many traditional Boston foods. Boston had an excess of molasses due to its rum-producing role in the “triangular trade” so it was only natural that it started being used as the go-to sweetener in dishes. While we’re not producing molasses in large quantities anymore, it has become a classic flavor strongly associated with the city that has become known as “Beantown.” Keep reading to find out the which Boston foods molasses has made its way into and where to get them.


Boston Baked Beans & Brown Bread

baked beans and brown bread

Photo Credit: Bites of Boston

Despite the fact that Boston baked beans and brown bread are not something that most Bostonians have on their dinner tables anymore they’re usually at the top of tourists’ lists for must-try Boston foods. What makes Boston baked beans and brown bread (which is more like a steamed pudding) so unique is that they are both made with molasses to sweeten them up. The one place where you can find them together in their most traditional form is at the Beantown Pub and we highly recommend trying them!

Lobster Sauce

shrimp in lobster sauce

Photo Credit: TripAdvisor

Lobster sauce is something that appears on almost every Chinese food menu in America but you might not recognize it in Boston if you’ve never eaten it here before. It’s significantly darker because of one added ingredient, you guessed it, molasses! Even though it’s called “lobster sauce” it’s typically served with shrimp. Here in Boston it’s a thick brown sauce with minced pork in it. You can find it all around Boston’s Chinatown but we recommend heading over to Peach Farm on Tyler Street to try theirs.


Molasses Beer from Backlash Beer Co.

beer cans

Photo Credit: Backlash Beer Co.

Boston is a brew town so the molasses was bound to end up in the beer at some point. We can raise our glasses to Backlash Beer Co. for creating The Great Molasses Disaster, an imperial stout brewed with molasses in it. It’s a complex beer with notes of roasted barley, chocolate, and hints of smoke round out the flavor. It’s perfect for these cold winter months still ahead of us. Visit their brewery on Hampden Street in Boston to check out what’s on tap and taste their nod to one of Boston’s most iconic flavors.

Ginger Molasses Cookie from Flour Bakery + Cafe

stacks of cookies

Photo Credit: Flour Bakery

Putting molasses in cookies was one of the most genius moves bakers could have made. So thanks to whoever did that! Its dense, rich, warm, sweetness pairs perfectly with earthy, spicy ginger and its texture makes for the softest, chewiest cookie. Flour Bakery + Cafe lets this Boston staple shine in their Ginger Molasses Cookies. They have these cookies down to a science and we can’t get enough of them. Our favorite is watching them grab one off the towering stack in the pastry case and placing it in a paper bag for us to soon devour. You want one don’t you… well so do we!

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