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For other uses, see Caramel (disambiguation).
A saucer of liquid caramel
Course Dessert
Main ingredients Sugar
Variations brittles, nougats, pralines, crème brûlée, crème caramel, and caramel apple
Cookbook: Caramel  Media: Caramel
A crème caramel flan that is topped with caramel sauce

Caramel (/ˈkærəmɛl/ or /ˈkɑrməl/[1][2]) is a beige to dark-brown confectionery product made by heating a variety of sugars. It can be used as a flavoring in puddings and desserts, as a filling in bonbons, or as a topping for ice cream and custard.

The process of caramelization consists of heating sugar slowly to around 340 °F (170 °C). As the sugar heats, the molecules break down and re-form into compounds with a characteristic color and flavor.

A variety of candies, desserts, and confections are made with caramel: brittles, nougats, pralines, crème brûlée, crème caramel, and caramel apples. Ice creams sometimes are flavored with or contain swirls of caramel.[3]


The English word comes from French caramel, borrowed from Spanish caramelo (18th century), itself possibly from Portuguese caramel.[4] Most likely that comes from Late Latin calamellus 'sugar cane', a diminutive of calamus 'reed, cane', itself from Greek κάλαμος. Less likely, it comes from a Medieval Latin cannamella, from canna 'cane' + mella 'honey'.[5] Finally, some dictionaries connect it to an Arabic kora-mochalla 'ball of sweet'.[6][7]

Caramel sauce[edit]

Caramel sauce is made by mixing hot caramel with some combination of cream, milk, and water; butterscotch sauce uses brown sugar and adds butter.[8] Caramel sauce is used for a variety of desserts, the most notable being flan (see picture).

Milk caramel sold as square candies, either for eating or for melting down.
Caramel sauce being made in a pan with a whisk.

Caramel candy[edit]

Caramel candy is a soft, dense, chewy candy made by boiling a mixture of milk or cream, sugar(s), butter, and vanilla (or vanilla flavoring). The sugar(s) are heated separately to reach 170 °C (340 °F), caramelizing them before the other ingredients are added.[9] Alternatively, all ingredients may be cooked together; in this procedure, the mixture is not heated above the firm ball stage (120 °C [250 °F]), so that caramelization of the milk occurs but not caramelization of the sugars. This type of candy is often called milk caramel or cream caramel.

Caramel coloring[edit]

Main article: Caramel color

Caramel coloring, a dark, bitter-tasting liquid, is the highly concentrated product of near total caramelization, bottled for commercial use. It is used as food coloring and in beverages, such as cola.


Main article: Caramelization

Caramelization is the removal of water from a sugar, proceeding to isomerization and polymerization of the sugars into various high-molecular-weight compounds. Compounds such as difructose anhydride may be created from the monosaccharides after water loss. Fragmentation reactions result in low-molecular-weight compounds that may be volatile and may contribute to flavor. Polymerization reactions lead to larger-molecular-weight compounds that contribute to the dark-brown color.[10]

In modern recipes and in commercial production, glucose (from corn syrup or wheat) or invert sugar is added to prevent crystallization, making up 10%–50% of the sugars by mass. "Wet caramels" made by heating sucrose and water instead of sucrose alone produce their own invert sugar due to thermal reaction, but not necessarily enough to prevent crystallization in traditional recipes.[11]

Nutritional information[edit]

Two tablespoons (i.e., 41 grams) of commercially prepared butterscotch or caramel topping contain:[12]

  • Calories (kcal): 103
  • Protein (g): 0.62
  • Total lipids (fat): 0.04
  • Carbohydrates, by difference (g): 27.02
  • Fiber, total dietary (g): 0.4
  • Cholesterol (mg): 0.0

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. p. 260. 
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. p. 278. 
  3. ^ CondeNet. "Salted Caramel Ice Cream". Epicurious. 
  4. ^ American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition, 2011, s.v.
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1st edition, 1888, s.v.
  6. ^ Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue française, s.v.
  7. ^ The arguments are summarized in Paget Toynbee, "Cennamella"--"Caramel"--"Canamell", The Academy, 34:864:338, November 24, 1888.
  8. ^ Wayne Gisslen, Professional Baking, ISBN 1118254368, p. 227
  9. ^ "Ready for Dessert". 
  10. ^ Caramelization, retrieved 2009-05-07 
  11. ^ "6. Sugar confectionery". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 2013-01-01. 
  12. ^ "Nutrient data for 19364, Toppings, butterscotch or caramel". National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. USDA, ARS, NAL, Nutrient Data Laboratory. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Caramel at Wikimedia Commons