Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beyond Molasses

image from The Nourished Kitchen. The Internet is an amazing place...

Molasses is used as a “carbohydrate booster” in hydroponics, and dry molasses is sold as a “nutrient-rich soil booster” at one of my local feed stores*. It's more desirable than simple sugars for use in gardening because of its relatively high concentration of minerals, and particularly because of its mineral-chelation effect—skipping the science, that means molasses can provide micronutrients to plants with no danger of toxic overload of those nutrients, and dramatically improve plants' ability to use other nutrients already present, thus lowering the need for fertilizers.

Yikes. I've been spending too much time around eggheads lately. -G- Where was I? Molasses, alternatives to, right.

Don't get me wrong, I love molasses. In the kitchen and the garden both (ginger snaps and AEM/AIM come immediately to mind). But judging by the number of plaintive queries I've seen, non-US gardeners, especially, may not be able to find molasses. And, too, I'm fundamentally opposed to buying anything when I have something already that will do as well, so...I started playing.

Refined sugar? No!

When growing microbes, refined sugar promotes different populations than the more complex molasses; seeing as EM was designed around molasses, I wanted something similar.

Honey? Nope.

Honey, if not contaminated, will not spoil. Anti-biotic, anti-microbial, not at all what EM needs.

Maple syrup? Way too expensive to use for this, so I didn't even try.

Stevia? Aspartame? Xylitol? No, no, no.

Stevia is a sweetener, but not a sugar. Artificial whatevers I'll leave in the lab, not my garden. Xylitol, and sugar alcohols generally, seem to be harder for microbes to process than the ultra-refined simple sugars, but not complex enough to sustain sufficient microbe-generations for my needs. (Nor for kombucha, according to a site I cannot now find to link. Ah, well.)

Molasses is a waste product derived, generally, from processing sugar cane. The cane is harvested and stripped of leaves, then pressed/smashed for juice. That juice is boiled and processed to extract sugars; molasses is what's left over after the sugar production. Different grades and categories of molasses indicate the processing methods undergone. Blackstrap molasses, which is what I use, has the best nutritional profile for humans and animals; my microbes and plants seem to like it, too.

Jaggery? Palm sugar? Piloncillo? Yes.

Jaggery, as I know the term, can mean the solid sugar cane remnants after the crushing, or a sugar made by evaporating the juice of date palm sap, or any unrefined, largely unprocessed sugar. Piloncillo is more a reference to the cone-shape than the make-up, which is simply unrefined sugar, typically made of evaporated cane juice. So, yeah, any of the above makes a decent substitute for molasses in AIM. Their nutritional profiles may not be the same, but they're all complex enough to grow vigorous effective-microbe colonies. Still too early to see how well it compares to blackstrap molasses in the garden, but so far, no difference has been observed.

Sorghum molasses?

I find it hard to imagine an area that has sorghum molasses but no blackstrap. Perhaps a household, though, so I looked it up. Turns out, this is more properly labeled a “syrup,” lower nutrient concentrations than real molasses, perhaps not quite so refined as table sugar. I wouldn't use it in my AIM, but I'd be curious as to other folks' results.

And a bonus item:

Dried molasses? Sadly, not for AEM/AIM. Turns out, the stuff at the feed store is actually molasses sprayed on “grain waste.” So, maybe for EM/IMO bokashi bran!

Until the next ferment,


*Yes, Austin really is in Texas. Sometimes that's hard to remember. Then you realize that you live within easy riding distance of three different feed stores, two of which are chains.


Anonymous said...

i'm having trouble finding information on maple syrup for a.e.m.

i know you spoke briefly about it sometime or other but i don't remember one way or the other if it was acceptable

one last question, for now :P, i read lots of posts suggesting molasses but only a portion recommend unsulfered. now i know sulfered molasses is bad for casting and compost tea but what's the word on aem bran


D. S. Foxx said...

If your EM is intended for any agricultural use, you want a complex sugar with no chemicals or competing microbes and no or very few antimicrobial properties. (Yep, that whole post was just to say that! -G-)

I can't imagine there are many people out there with sufficient maple syrup they'd be willing to waste it on their microbes instead of eating it! So no, not much info out there on its performance. I did look it up, and found a few references to "active enzymes" present in maple syrup that would tend to imply it's not an ideal sugar-source for this sort of thing; however, like honey--that I do not recommend for EM due to its antimicrobial properties--it should work if you're only trying to activate a dormant EM. It is not an ingredient to use when attempting to concoct a homebrew alternative to retail EM, or as a food-source for a continuous culture (mother). Let me know if I've confused you further, eh?

Sulfured molasses, as I understand it, has two marks against it for EM--it's typically made from green (young/immature) sugar sources, so there's a higher concentration of simple sugars and not as many of the desired other compounds found in molasses made from mature plants; and the sulfur is a preservative, which will likely discourage the microbes you're feeding. Also, then you have sulfur in your end-products, which can upset your soil-borne microbes and plants, depending on the quantities present and a host of other factors...

But that's not to say it won't work, just that if you have a choice you should probably go for the unsulfured, mature products. I don't think I mentioned treacle (mild molasses, here in the US) in this post, but my one-bottle test of sulfured treacle did activate EM.


Anonymous said...

thank you for this D!

i appreciate the time you took to interpret this for us

Anonymous said...

I read about how to make Bokashi but it seems silly to put molasses back into refined sugar so I am off looking for the waste from a sugar cane juice pressing operation. In addition one has to be sure the molasses has not been sulfured. Sounds like an expensive trip to the food co-op for some sulphur free molasses. What would you think of using a mix of sugar cane pressing waste and coffee husks. Both should be free and it means I would not have to use refined sugar and molasses.

D. S. Foxx said...

Free is (almost) always the best option! -G- Sugar cane pressing waste sounds like the stuff I know as jaggery; be careful about molds and mildews, and it should work quite well. Coffee husks are completely outside of my sphere of experience, but a quick websearch says they've historically been used as animal bedding, which means they are likely dry, absorbent, carbon matter...sounds worth a try to me.

Best of luck, and happy bokashi-ing!