Grape molasses, a reduction of grape juice, is considered to be one of the first sweeteners, along wiht sugar and honey in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions.
Grape molasses in Balqa is made from Salti grapes which throughout history were vital for the area.
Grape molasses is a dark coloured thick viscous liquid with very sweet flavour. Its aroma is pungent with a potent hint of smokiness, from cooking on wood fire.
Traditionally, locals wait for the grape to mature on the vines before harvesting it, as they become much sweeter. After harvesting, any damaged grapes are discarded and removed from its bunch. The grapes are then washed, dried and placed in a large deep container, where they are squeezed by hand until the peel and the seeds are extracted. The juice is filtered from the peels and seeds using a piece of mesh cloth called Kharita into the cooking pot.
The firewood is started, surrounded with big stones to support the cooking pot. Once the fire is strong enough, the pot is placed on the fire and the juice is cooked. White foam appears on the surface, which is scraped off by a wooden spoon, the juice is cooked until it is reduces to a thick, sticky liquid similar to honey. The process usually takes up to 8 hours. The molasses is poured into storage containers either bottles or glass jars, always before it thickens, while it is still hot. Historically, ancestors used to use clay pots to preserve the molasses.
Grape molasses is an ancient food, popular for its nutritious qualities and delightful flavour. It is traditionally used not only as a sweetener, but as a remedy as well.
Grape molasses has more nutritional value than honey, and is a great source of energy. It is also rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and B, and minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium. It also contributes greatly to bone development, for children, and has curative effects on anaemia, asthenia and physical weakness.
One of the earliest mentions of grape syrup comes from the fifth-century BC Greek physician Hippocrates, who refers to hépsēma which is its Greek name. It is also mentioned in the fifth-century BC by Athenian playwright Aristophanes and the Roman-era Greek physician Galen.
A research on the agriculture in the Levant during the Umayyad period (661-750 AD) indicated that the region of Al-Balqa was known for its grapes and people used to process grapes into molasses at that time . Another research on agriculture in Jordan and Palestine between 1864-1918 indicated that Salti grapes were considered the best among the items exported to Palestine, noting that grape molasses was a well-known product in the country.
Grape molasses was used as a preferred sweetener in the Middle East for centuries, however nowadays it is mostly used in rural areas, among farming communities.
Most of the locals grow grapes surrounding their households or in vineyards at the borders of the city and produce their own grape molasses for their home consumption. The molasses is sold directly from their homes or to local small spice shops (Attar). Others buy grapes to produce their own molasses, but most of the people buy it from the producers or shops.
Grape molasses is usually eaten mixed with Tahini (sesame paste) as an energy boosting breakfast item, or could be eaten on its own spread on bread. Modern uses include flavourings, marinades, glazes for meat, dressing for salads and substitute for corn syrup, maple syrup or honey in baked goods.
It is made in the end of summer to be enjoyed in winter but can be stored for more than one year, in a dark cool place properly sealed.