What is Molasses? A Guide to Molasses for Horses


Here at Dengie, we see a number of frequently asked questions come in from our horse owners, riders and trainers, but one of the most common is the question ‘what is molasses?’. Our guide can help you to understand what molasses is, what it is used for and the sugar content. Find out the answer to the question ‘what is molasses?’ below.

What is molasses?

Molasses is a dark brown syrup produced as a by-product from the sugar industry and can come from either sugar cane or sugar beet. The first point to note is that molasses is from plant origin and so is a natural feed ingredient. It is also worth noting that it is a co-product from another industry which means a valuable resource is being fully utilised rather than going to waste. With sustainability of food and fuel production of ever-increasing importance, this is an important factor to consider.

molasses

What is molasses used for?

Molasses is primarily used to naturally sweeten feeds to enhance their palatability; the sweetness comes from its sugar content. A recent study analysed 32 samples of molasses from around the world and found that sucrose was the greatest form of sugar in both cane and beet molasses. Sucrose is a disaccharide (2 sugar) made up of glucose and fructose. The table below shows the range of sugar levels from the different molasses analysed in the study. Although the sucrose level in beet molasses is higher, it contains very little of the glucose and fructose in their single sugar form (monosaccharides) whereas cane molasses contains less sucrose than beet molasses but more of the sugars in their single form. When all the sugar levels are added together, the totals are very similar between the two types of molasses.

Source of MolassesAverage Sucrose %Average Glucose %Average Fructose %
Cane48.88.15.3
Beet60.90.30.3

How does sugar in molasses compare to sugar in grass forages?

When understanding the answer to the question ‘what is molasses’ we must look at the comparison between sugar in molasses to sugar in grass forages. Data from a study in Sweden showed that in grass pasture allowed to mature to make hay, the sucrose content was 3.3% of dry matter (DM), glucose was 3.6% DM and fructose 2.6% DM. The total water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content was 10% which is relatively low compared to many grass based forages produced in the UK. So what we should take from this information is that the same forms of sugar are found in molasses and grass so we shouldn’t view the sugar in molasses as unnatural.

What matters about sugar in molasses?

What matters is how much is fed in total and how much is consumed at one time which can also be viewed as the rate of intake. The levels of sugar provided by the hay made from the grass in the study in Sweden are shown in the table below. The total intake from 7.5kgs dry matter, the minimum amount recommended for a 500kgs horse, would supply around 650grams of sugar.

SugarLevel in Hay %Grams provided if feeding 7.5kgs Dry Matter
Glucose4300
Sucrose1.4105
Fructose3.2240

To put this into context, to supply the same total amount of sugar from molasses it would be necessary to feed just over 1kg of pure molasses. Clearly this is never likely to be done intentionally! In reality, molasses is added at very low levels to feeds which are then fed in much smaller quantities than grass-based forages and so the actual amount of sugar supplied from molasses is very low. A scoop of Alfa-A Original which weighs about 400grams would provide about 40grams of sugar. Of course, for horses and ponies that require as low levels of sugar as possible in their diet, then our range of molasses free feeds are the lowest sugar options and a reduction in grass based forage intake is often also required. For horses and ponies that are in work and of a healthy weight with no underlying health issues, molasses is an acceptable ingredient when included in moderation.

References:

Muller et al (2016) Methods for reduction of WSC content in grass forages for horses. Livestock Science 186.

Nunes & Anastasiou (2021) Fructose expands the gut and aids fat update. Nature Journal, Vol 597, September 2021.

Palmonari et al (2020) Characterisation of molasses chemical composition. Journal of Dairy Science. 103:6244–6249 https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2019-17644