Grape molasses: what it is and how to prepare it at home
Grape molasses is a traditional, delicious, healthy food, and if you live in a wine-producing area (or have a few grapevines on your terrace), I recommend that you prepare it at home.
I can undoubtedly call myself a devoted consumer of grape molasses, which in Italy we call it Mosto Cotto (cooked must), Pekmez in Turkiye, Petimezi in Greece while in Arab countries it is Dibis. Beside the names, only a few parameters change, such as acidity and sugary taste, along with the different type of process, but they basically indicate the same thing: a syrup made from grape juice, thick and dark, traditionally used instead of sugar.
This wide presence of Grape molasses in different cultures not only shows how much we are united in our appreciation of the same tastes, but also points to another curious fact: we all had to find a way to sweeten the palate and/or to better preserve excess grapes!
Whatever you want to call it, grape molasses is a heritage food product: in Italy mosto cotto has been part of the PAT (Prodotti Agroalimentari Tradizionali – Traditional Agricultural Food Products) for several years. Unfortunately, due to the laborious production process and the greatly reduced demand, even in Italy (a country particularly famous for wine production) it is becoming more and more difficult to find it in stores, which is a real shame, because in addition to being a viable alternative to sugar and other unnatural and unhealthy sweeteners, grape molasses has several health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Benefits of grape molasses
As expected, it is a viable alternative to sugar: therefore, it is a valuable resource for those who wish to reduce or eliminate industrial foods from their lives.
It is certainly an excellent substitute, but unlike sugar, although grape molasses also contains a high percentage of sugars (about 70-80%: mainly glucose and fructose), it cannot be considered a food with “empty calories”. Its richness in vitamins B1 and B2 and significant amounts of minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium raise it to a much higher level.
The high concentration of calcium (40mg in a single tablespoon) makes it a viable alternative to milk, for lactose intolerant people and vegans; thus a concrete aid to good skeletal and dental health, as well as in the control of various disorders such as osteoporosis, which affects a large number of women after menopause.
Grape molasses is also a great help for iron deficiency: the massive amount of iron (0.9mg in a single tablespoon), combined with its high assimilability, makes grape molasses one of the sworn enemies of sideropenic anemia (i.e. anemia due to iron deficiency).
Moreover, iron absorption is greatly facilitated by the presence of fructose.
Without no doubt, it is a really healthy and natural thing to consume fructose from fruit, not from high fructose corn syrup!
But the benefits of cooked fruit do not end there: the presence of potassium is a powerful weapon against high blood pressure, one of the greatest threats to cardiovascular health.
Thanks to its excellent magnesium content, grape molasses is a solid ally against depression; thus, by stimulating the production of serotonin, it will not only make you feel calmer and more mentally balanced, but will also help you fight the craving for sweets (read more here).
In addition, it is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants such as resveratrol, which alone is able to prevent and treat several diseases, including cancer ; it also helps to have a smooth and radiant skin, precisely because of the neutralizing power of antioxidants against free radicals, which are responsible for accelerating the effect of years on the skin.
Seeing how “good” grape molasses is, you can now consider adding it to your shopping list; however, if you are lucky enough to have a lot of grapes, you should definitely prepare it at home.
How to make grape molasses at home
Be warned, making grape molasses at home requires tens of minutes of preparation and several hours of cooking. That is why I had never ventured with the process.
However, this year, when I was in Crotone for a few months to continue the 3Rs project, my husband and I were invited by our dear friend Salvatore Terminelli to participate to his grape harvest (in his very ancient vineyards in Cirò, home of the famous and very good wine of the same name); At the end of our work, which was “indispensable” for him (it didn’t even take an hour), he generously donated us several kilos of excellent black grapes of the Gaglioppo variety; that’s why I felt obliged to make this di-wine syrup!
You will therefore excuse me if I do not know exactly how many kilos are used in the recipe (I live in a rented house with a poorly equipped kitchen and obviously no scales), but let us assume at least 5 kilos. Fortunately, I do know the amount of must produced, that is, the grape juice obtained by pressing the grapes: exactly 3.5 liters.
To obtain the grape juice, you must first:
– wash the grapes several times (if they are not organic, it is best to soak them in water and cider vinegar for about 15 minutes);
– remove any leaves, stalks and berries that are particularly damaged;
– extract the juice: if you have a cold press, you are in luck; a centrifuge can also do the trick; otherwise you have to rely on your hands: do not be discouraged, in the latter case the operation will be time-consuming, but if done in company it will also be fun.
Use a heavy object, such as a potato masher, or a meat tenderizer, or a pestle; if you have none of these, use a well-washed jar, or just your hands, to squeeze the juice out of the berries placed on a sieve, separating the skin and the seeds, also known as pips (do not throw them away, they are rich in antioxidants and vitamins: store them in the refrigerator or freezer, in individual portions, so that you can take 1 tablespoon a day);
– strain the resulting grape juice twice or more to remove unwanted particles that can cloud the grape molasses and/or make it taste bitter;
– there is no need to look for a copper pot (as the traditional recipes may require), even the trusty heavy-bottomed stainless steel will do; the important thing is that it has a high rim;
Now you have 2 choices: the Italian method or the Turkish method:
1) The Italian method is the easy one: boil the grape juice for about 2 hours or more, stirring very often, until the volume is reduced by 2/3, resulting in about 750 ml of mosto cotto.
2) The Turkish method is more complicated and time-consuming, but it is the sweetest grape molasses: traditionally, white clay earth (sold in Turkiye properly with the name of “Pekmez earth”) is added to the must; while in the industrial production of Pekmez, technical CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) is used; or in its absence (usually no one at home has any), simple sodium bicarbonate, with the purpose of reducing acidity and turbidity and extending shelf life. For 3.5 liters, about 1 tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate is sufficient, to be added as soon as the grape juice is close to boiling; then boil for about 15 minutes; then turn off the stove and leave it to settle for at least 8 hours; the next day, pour off the liquid part without stirring any sediment, filter it another time and boil only the liquid part as described above for about 2 hours, stirring very often.
Warning for the newcomer to grape molasses
When must, a concentrated sugar, is cooked for an extended period of time, it is natural for toxic contaminants known as HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) to form.
Just as with acrylamide or heterocyclic hydrocarbons (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), we should reduce the exposure time; therefore, during preparation, turn the extractor hood on full power and keep the windows open to ventilate the room.
However, there is no need to panic; grape molasses is usually produced only once a year. The important thing is not to overcook it and to avoid inhaling full nubs in a closed environment
If you consider my work important, your support is crucial:
a small donation will carry on the Revolution!
In conclusion, choose the method that suits you best and enjoy this delicacy.
Which one do I prefer? Obviously the Turkish one! But not just out of patriotism, but for the uses I have in mind…by the way, do you know how to use cooked must?
How to use grape molasses
First of all, in various preparations instead of sugar.
Only in Italian cuisine there are many traditional recipes made only with must: cartellate, cantucci, peperati, mmugghiati, cavallucci, mustazzoli, moustokouloura and many others.
But the best one, at least for me, is the simpliest one made with tahini (sesame seed paste): it is a spreadable cream for breakfast or you energy loaded snacks, unique in the world, believe me.
But also in preparations that do not require additional cooking, such as this light pumpkin tiramisu; or in sweet potato ice cream; or why not, simply on healthy pancakes in the manner of maple syrup; to end examples, great on porridge, instead of honey.
Enjoy grape molasses as much as you can (store-bought or homemade) and good revolution to all.
1) Elenco nazionale dei prodotti agroalimentari tradizionali. Gazzetta Ufficiale. 21 Agosto 2000.
2) Batu, A. (1993). The importance of raisin and pekmez on human health and nutrition, Food, 18 (5) 303-307.
3) Christides, Tatiana, and Paul Sharp. “Sugars increase non-heme iron bioavailability in human epithelial intestinal and liver cells.” PloS one vol. 8,12 e83031. 10 Dec. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083031
4) Kiran TR, Otlu O, Karabulut E, Bay Karabulut A. Protective Effects of Grape Molasses and
Resveratrol Against DMBA Induced Oxidative Stress in Rat Ovarian Tissues. Middle Black Sea Journal of Health Science, 2019; 5(2):151-159