Make Homemade Pomegranate Molasses Without Added Sugar
Happy new year my friends! I hope you’re ready to kick off 2024 with something tangy and sweet. While there is a lot I want to chat about regarding the garden, today I’ve got to share a leftover bit from 2023. At the end of last month, I took the last of the pomegranates from our tree in the backyard and juiced them. While you can enjoy fresh pomegranate juice all on its lonesome just like that, I took it one step further and boiled it down into one of the most delicious concoctions I’ve had in a long time: homemade pomegranate molasses.
Quite a few years ago, admittedly before our pomegranate tree was really producing much, a fellow gardener mentioned to me that they take gallons of their pomegranate juice and turn it into sweet pomegranate molasses. Ever since then, I bookmarked that in my mind for a time when our pomegranate tree was more productive. Thankfully, our backyard pomegranate tree has finally matured and started producing tons of huge, juicy pomegranates (by the way, if you do want a little rundown on my experience growing these fruits, I have recently shared Fun Facts I’ve Learned About Growing Pomegranates).
What is pomegranate molasses?
Pomegranate molasses is a kitchen staple that features pomegranate juice boiled down (sometimes with sugar and lemon or even salt) into a syrup texture. You’ll find it’s been used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African dishes for centuries. While Pomegranate arils are used frequently in many dishes, pomegranate molasses is an ingredient that is also very common. What I’ve learned thus far about homemade pomegranate molasses is that it’s delicious on its own as a main flavor, but it also can be used to create more nuanced and layered flavors in food. For example, Muhammara is a Syrian red pepper dip that utilizes pomegranate molasses as an ingredient—-and truly there’s no substitute! Stews and meats also can benefit from the sweet tang of pomegranate molasses.
Before making my own homemade pomegranate molasses, I did a lot of reading through different websites and recipes. Honestly, the biggest decision I had to make was whether or not to use sugar. A lot of recipes combine fresh pomegranate juice with lemon and sugar to be boiled down—-this is more what I grew up thinking molasses was—but there were also quite a few recipes that claimed pomegranate molasses doesn’t need extra sugar to achieve that thick consistency, and they leave it out.
In the end, I wanted to see how my homemade pomegranate molasses turned out sans sugar, so I basically followed the instructions from the Mediterranean Dish. If you’re wanting to make a molasses using sugar and lemon juice, check out this Syrian pomegranate molasses recipe over at Tasty Oven (there are some incredible recipe ideas too).
The Purpose of Sugar
As I mentioned, I went back and forth between using sugar in my homemade pomegranate molasses or not. In the end I opted to go sugar-free and embrace the pure flavor of the pomegranate juice. Regardless, it’s important to note that sugar is often part of food preservation safety. For instance, that’s why it can be dangerous to cut the amount of sugar in jam and jelly recipes without following a Master Food Preserver-approved recipe. In the case of pomegranate molasses, the added sugar most likely helps to act as a preservative, increasing shelf-life, which is something to consider. Therefore, for my sugar-free homemade pomegranate molasses, I made sure to keep it in the fridge and use within a couple weeks. Alternatively, you can freeze your fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice (not molasses) so that you can make fresh pomegranate molasses whenever you want in small batches! I say to ‘freeze the juice’ because I don’t know how freezing would effect the quality of the molasses, but I have frozen the juice myself many times before.
How to Squeeze Fresh Pomegranates for Juice
The first step to making homemade pomegranate molasses is to get pomegranate juice. And yes, you can buy juice from the store, but you all know that garden-to-table is what I like to share and write about! Our beloved ‘wonderful’ pomegranate tree produces giant fruits that we use in a multitude of ways. If it’s early in the season, I like to remove the juicy arils (here’s my video how-to) and simply eat them as snacks with a spoon or toss into salads. As our tummies get their fill of pomegranate arils, I turn to other methods of preserving pomegranates—-mainly juicing and freezing the juice for future uses. Furthermore, now that I know the glory of pomegranate molasses, I’ll definitely be saving some juice to make molasses every year.
There are a few options available to you for juicing pomegranates, but only one I’ve tried. First, you can remove the arils as I mention above and put them through an electric juicer. Full disclosure, I’ve heard that the type of juicer matters, as some juicers get clogged by the seeds really fast and it’s a disaster. Also, I’d personally avoid putting whole fruit or pieces in a juicer because the white parts and peel can lend a bitterness to the pomegranate juice. Second, you can remove the arils from the fruit and then gently process them in a blender (don’t blend the seeds!) and then use a sieve to press the pulp and release the juice. Third, you can use a manual hand-press juicer. Sam and I bought this juicer years ago for our tangerines, and it turns out that it works for pomegranates too! I love juicing pomegranate halves or pieces with a manual juicer, but it is definitely more messy! Don’t believe me? Get an idea of how to juice pomegranates with a manual press juicer by watching my video. Honestly, I love our juicer, and it’s how I prefer to squeeze citrus juice as well.
Homemade Pomegranate Molasses Recipe
I went with a small batch of pomegranate molasses, so I only needed four cups of pomegranate juice. This yielded about 1/2-3/4 cups homemade pomegranate molasses.
4 cups pomegranate juice
First, it’s imperative that you have nothing else going on while you make this molasses. This is not a recipe you want to multi-task or ignore for even a moment! Overall, the process will take about 1-2 hours.
Second, take a small plate or saucer and put it in the freezer. We will be taking a tiny bit of molasses out of the pan and spreading it on the plate towards the end. This is a little trick I learned from making jams and jellies, as it lets you see the texture of the finished product quickly so you can assess doneness.
Next, add your four cups of pomegranate juice to a medium saucepan over low heat. Instead of simmering mine where you could see bubbles, I kind of kept it just on the verge of a simmer and stirred often. Little bubbles around the edge are okay, but don’t let it burn! Patience!
Slowly, you’ll notice your homemade molasses start to look thicker. Personally, I think the danger of overcooking is pretty high, as some comments on other blogs mentioned that afterwards the taste of the molasses had a burnt or bitter flavor even after slow cooking. Therefore, I kept simmering and stirring until the consistency was more like maple syrup, and it coated the back of my spoon like a glaze. Then I reached for my plate in the freezer and tested the consistency to make sure it would cool into a thick glaze that I could draw my finger through without it filling back in. Essentially, the key to not burning your molasses is realizing that how it looks in the pan should be slightly thinner than you’d expect because it thickens as it cools. Check out that gorgeous pour!
Like I mentioned before, the storage life of this molasses will be shorter because we didn’t add any sugar or anything extra. To be safe, store your homemade molasses in the fridge and use within a couple weeks. As always, never eat anything you aren’t sure of, and always inspect for signs of spoilage.
How to Use Homemade Pomegranate Molasses
Like I said before, I’ve frozen pomegranate juice in the past, and I think keeping it in that form is good for versatility. That being said, having a small batch of pomegranate molasses on hand has proven to be quite useful! Most recipes only call for a few tablespoons or quarter cup at a time.
After making the homemade pomegranate molasses, I poured it into a clean mason jar and stored it in the fridge. Once your molasses has cooled, I encourage you to taste it on its own. In my opinion, pomegranate molasses tastes sweet and sour in the best way. In many ways it reminds me of a more fruit-forward balsamic vinegar.
Use your homemade pomegranate molasses in salad dressings, in a marinade or glaze for meat, enjoy Muhammara (a roasted red pepper dip), and baba ganoush (like this recipe here). Additionally, drizzle this molasses over roasted vegetables or I’ve even done yogurt and cheesecake.
For my fellow gardeners who also grow saffron (read my saffron growing guide here), Fesenjan is a Persian pomegranate and walnut stew that uses both pomegranate molasses and saffron. Try this recipe from the Mediterranean Dish. Honestly, once you’ve made your own and are familiar with the flavor profile, you’ll find tons of ways to use your homemade pomegranate molasses!