Here is some info on molasses from Vinny Pinto, an EM researcher. Much of what he has to say concerning black strap molasses is applicable to compost tea and general horticultural use. The part about fermenting and pH levels is restricted to EM. Bear in mind that when you use molasses in your soil, you are not feeding your plants but feeding bacteria and archaea which in turn feed protozoa which in turn feed the plants.
"Any Hints on Molasses and Type?
How About Molasses Sources?
What About Using Microbial "Foods" Other than Blackstrap Molasses?
Molasses has always been the classical food for EM throughout its history, since it is cheap, and contains a mix of simple sugars, complex sugars, complex carbohydrates, minerals and trace minerals. I personally recommend only blackstrap molasses (preferably organic, but not critical), but, really any good molasses which is not too sugary will work. Briefly, any kind of molasses WILL work, but if the simple sugar content is too high, (as can happen with some lighter, non-blackstrap molasses) you may eventually experience a problem with your Activated EM (AEM) going too low in pH (too far below 3.5), and then killing most of the organisms (other than a few lactic acid organisms). Further, with types of molasses which are significantly lighter than blackstrap, you may hit other problems as well. With simple sugars, including really sweet molasses (non-blackstrap molasses such as Barbadoes or West Indies), it is possible indeed to drive the pH down to 3.2 or lower, which, while it does preserve any antioxidants and other nutrients in the liquid for awhile, is kinda hard on the organisms, and their count decreases rapidly.
Can I Use Simpler Sugars to make AEM?
Please bear in mind that blackstrap molasses has been used as the primary foodstuff for Activated EM (AEM) and related EM products for over 20 years, and this is not a accident. Since it offers both sugars, more complex carbohydrates, numerous antioxidants, and also numerous minerals and trace elements, it works well as a food for the microbial consortium and also helps the fermentation process to produce a highly stable liquid high in antioxidants. While it is possible to use other, simpler sugar sources such as lighter grades of molasses, honey, barley malt, rice syrup, corn syrup or sugar as the foodstuff, the results may be very unpredictable and the resultant liquid unstable (insofar as shelf life) and, even so, additional nutrients such as mineral-rich rock dusts, fruit concentrates or sea salt may be needed to even allow the fermentation to complete successfully. Indeed, not only do some versions of AEM made with simpler sugar sources exhibit problems during fermentation, some exhibit a shelf life of only a month or two before going "bad". So, if you must use sugar sources other than blackstrap molasses, you may wish to tread carefully and record your recipes and procedures to allow you to understand and interpret later results.
On the other hand, it is indeed possible to successfully brew EM concoctions with sugar sources other than blackstrap molasses, but it may take a lot more work and tinkering to get it just right. As an example, several EM-fermented human nutritional supplements such as EM-X, Lanox Antioxidant Liquid (from Lanox in Korea) and Vita Biosa nutritional supplement (from Denmark) each avoid the use of molasses entirely (or almost entirely), and instead use only lighter, simpler sugars. On the other hand, each contains other nutrients as well, usually bran, fruit syrups, herbs, or sea vegetables.
Purchasing Molasses from the Bulk Tank at Your Local Feed and Grain Store for Making AEM for Utility and Livestock Use
And now, a word of warning: it may be tempting to purchase cheap blackstrap molasses from the bulk tank at your local feed and grain store: my nearby feed store sells feed grade blackstrap molasses for roughly 7 cents a pound, or 79 cents per gallon (blackstrap molasses of 79.5 Brix weighs about 11.8 pounds per gallon), for example. Sometimes you can get good blackstrap molasses this way, but be warned that such bulk molasses has often been cut (usually at the shipping docks or at a distributor) with water, with preservatives, with various sulfur compounds (as a preservative), or even with cheap oils to improve flow. Each of these things can seriously interfere with your Activated EM, even if it is only intended for animal or utility use. It is sometimes very difficult to get hard, clear, clean and accurate answers from managers at feed and grain stores about exactly what is in their bulk molasses; they often simply do not know for sure. Be aware also that this bulk molasses is NEVER sold for human consumption, but only for consumption by animals. I do have plenty of friends who brew AEM for use as a human fermented antioxidant beverage using this same 7 cents per pound feed-grade blackstrap molasses (from my local Southern States Cooperative depot, see below...), but I tend to frown on that practice.
However, on the positive side, I have purchased cheap bulk feed-grade molasses (the way this works is that you bring your own bucket and lid) from my local feed and grain store (Southern States Cooperative), and it has smelled and tasted fine. I then spent the time to find out the name and contact information for the bulk supplier (Westlas), and then called them and asked some questions about their bulk molasses. I also was able to procure copies of all the actual shipping records and the guaranteed analysis for the most recent batch of bulk blackstrap molasses which my local feed store had purchased, which helped me considerably. The molasses I purchased has a Brix (SG) reading of 79.5. According to the local vendor and the distributor, there is no sulphur added, nor any other preservatives or anti-mold agents added; it is simply just pure cheap bulk molasses for animal feed. In this case, as best as I can tell, this molasses seems to be of rather high quality, and I often use it in preparing EM products for my animals (poultry) or for waste or utility use. And, as noted above.... I have neighbors who even brew up large batches of AEM for human consumption using this cheap feed-grade molasses, although I personally believe in using only human-grade blackstrap molasses for making EM brews for human consumption.
More Notes on Molasses Type and Molasses Sources, Feed Grade and Human Food Grade
Whether you are making human-grade or utility/animal-feed grade AEM or other EM brews, I want to repeat my caveat from above to use only blackstrap molasses (versus other grades of molasses), at least when first starting out and learning the ropes. Blackstrap, like all other molasses grades, is a by-product of the refining of sugar, and is the strongest and bitterest molasses, highest in minerals, and lowest in sugars, as it is from the third and final squeezing of sugar cane (or sugar beets). Some animal feed-grade bulk molasses suppliers may call blackstrap by their "internal" trade name of "Cane Molasses", and this name will often signify that there have been no substances or chemicals added such as preservatives, sulfur, anti-molding agents, propionic acid or sodium propionate, or vegetable oils (the latter is added to some grades of feed molasses to allow it to flow more easily and to keep it from caking and drying to a stiff texture on grains.)
I have done some extensive experiments with using other, lighter types of molasses, and frankly, I have not been really satisfied with any of them, although I must admit that some lines/brands of medium molasses (the second squeezing), and often sold in supermarkets labeled as a bit lighter than blackstrap, are usually workable. However, I am not at all satisfied with the results I have had with using the lighter grades of molasses from the first squeezing. These types of molasses are often marketed under the names Barbadoes (aka "Barbados") molasses, West Indies molasses, Island molasses, Jamaican molasses, and an even lighter grade is sometimes marketed in the UK as "Golden Molasses".
If you live in or near the state of Pennsylvania (USA) and are looking for bulk quantities of human grade or animal feed grade blackstrap, molasses, in quantities from 5 gallon buckets, to 55 gallon barrels or more, I can strongly recommend Zook Molasses in Eastern PA, located near Chester and Lancaster, PA. They are willing and able to ship in sizes from 1 gallon to 5 gallons and sizes much larger, and can often even arrange to have the bucket or barrel shipped to a feed and grains store near you to save drastically on shipping costs which would be incurred by using UPS or Fedex. Best, their salespeople are EXTREMELY knowledgeable about their products. If you should call them, please be aware that human-food-grade and animal-feed-grade molasses are each handled by separate divisions, and hence, separate salespeople. Each division has its own name, although they are both owned by Zook Molasses, and are co-located within the same facility. On the animal feed grade side, the division is called Zook Molasses, as is the parent company, and they offer about 30 types of feed-grade blackstrap molasses, many with additives, etc., but some totally without additives. Their totally clean animal-feed grade blackstrap molasses is marketed as "Cane Molasses" and is excellent.
Their human food grade molasses division is named Golden Barrel Molasses, and offers an excellent blackstrap molasses at very inexpensive prices.
Zook Molasses contact info: ZOOK MOLASSES CO. Honey Brook, PA 19344 Phone : 800-327-4406. The website for their human-grade molasses division (Golden Barrel Molasses) is at: http://www.goldenbarrel.com
If you are located near Pennsylvania (USA) or really, anywhere in the USA, and wish to order good, modestly inexpensive, unsulfured human-grade molasses for shipping via UPS in quantities from pints from 5-gallon pails, then you may wish to try Draper Super Bee Apiaries in northern PA. Their catalog webpage may be found at:
and their toll-free number is: 800-233-4273
Lastly, as I may have mentioned in a section above, the animal feed-grade blackstrap molasses carried by many Southern States Cooperative feed and grain stores, at least in the East (USA), is a rather high quality blackstrap molasses which appears (I have researched this all the way back to the suppliers) to be totally free of sulfur, preservatives, oils and anti-molding agents.
Organic vs. Commercial "Not-Organic" Molasses
I personally use both kinds of molasses, and I seem to have learned from my work as well as the reports of others that both work very well for EM, but many batches of organic blackstrap can give you a bit of a hard time if you are shooting for a very rapid pH drop and also for the pH to (ever!) reach 3.5 or below. This is because organic blackstrap molasses contains even more calcium and other ionic minerals than does "inorganic" blackstrap, and the calcium and other mineral ions act as massive buffers against pH drop, thus slowing the pH drop considerably. So, if your goal is rapid pH drop upon starting fermentation, go with the not-organic versions; they will usually be lower in Ca and other minerals, due to the refining/squeezing processes used (and perhaps partially due to soil quality/mineral content as well).
Other Kinds of Molasses and other Sweeteners
It does appear to be possible to use other sugars to feed the EM organisms in brewing, and this successfully been done. However, the major problem which arises with simple using sugars (such as dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, honey, mannitol, etc.) is that they do not offer any complex sugars or complex carbohydrates, nor do they offer any minerals or trace minerals as feed for the "bugs", and so, if using a simple sugar, you would need to add a bit of sea salt (which is a wonderful idea anyway, even if using good molasses), some minerals (maybe rock dust...) and maybe even some source of complex sugars. A remaining problem with using simple sugars, including really sweet molasses, it that it is possible indeed to drive the pH down below the 3.5 range to 3.2 or lower, which, while it does preserve any antioxidants and other nutrients in the liquid for awhile, is kinda hard on the organisms, and their count decreases rapidly. "