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Chilled, broken caramel
Detail of caramel pieces

Caramel (alternative spellings: caramel or caramel ; borrowed in the 19th century from French caramel from Spanish caramelo , "burnt sugar, sugar cane") is a mixture of molten sugar and its oxidized and condensed reaction products produced by strong, dry heating . Depending on the temperature, it changes color from golden yellow to deep brown and develops the typical roasted aroma (caramel smell). Caramel tastes sweet to bitter, depending on the degree of roasting. Depending on the consistency, a distinction is made between hard caramels (“drops”) and soft caramels (for example chewy candies or toffees ). The latter contain up to 15% fat and emulsifiers .


For the traditional production of caramel, granulated sugar ( sucrose ) is heated dry in a pan on a high fire, stirring constantly. Once the sugar begins to melt, it only takes a few seconds for the caramel to take on a dark color - production requires constant attention. To prevent the mass from solidifying afterwards, when the desired degree of browning has been reached, it is quenched with boiling water and dissolved into a syrup.

Granulated sugar starts to melt at around 135 ° C (without discolouring). The resulting weak curd is used in the confectionery for glazed fruits, spinning sugar and sugar decorations. The actual caramelization, which changes color and taste, begins at temperatures above 143 ° C. For golden brown caramel, temperatures of 143 to 160 ° C are necessary. Cold caramel is translucent and has a glass-like, hard, crumbly consistency. Above 160 ° C, bitter, dark brown to black sugar couleur arises . Other types of sugar have different caramelization temperatures. Fruit sugar ( fructose ) caramelises at 110 ° C, the temperature of malt sugar ( maltose ) is 180 ° C higher than that of granulated sugar.

Caramelization temperatures
sugar temperature
Fructose 110 ° C
Galactose 160 ° C
glucose 160 ° C
Sucrose 160 ° C
Maltose 180 ° C

Chemical basics

During caramelization, chemical processes that are not fully clarified, some of which take place simultaneously, take place, including a change in mutarotation , inversion in the case of sucrose , oxidations , condensation reactions , polymerizations , intramolecular covalent bonds , rearrangements such as isomerizations and partial pyrolysis , and increasingly with darker caramel a charring . The sugar becomes dehydrated and the carbohydrates combine to form various polymers , ketones, and aldehydes , some of which are responsible for the brown color and bitter taste. Therefore, the darker it is burnt, the tart taste of caramel. Different dihydrofuranones, cyclopentenolones, cyclohexenolones and pyrones (e.g. maltol ) are produced as characteristic smells .

Even at room temperature, carbohydrate molecules are occasionally left by two neighboring -OH and -H in the form of water, ie carbohydrates already have a low water vapor pressure at room temperature. This is in equilibrium with the water vapor pressure of the air, so that the humidity normally prevailing in our air envelope is sufficient to repair this immediately. This is also true with appropriate heat: carbohydrates are ultimately completely decomposed into water and carbon, the process goes from caramel to sugar charcoal . In contrast to browning protein-containing foods, there is no Maillard reaction when caramelizing sugar and pure carbohydrates . However, there are combined processes when, for example, cream is added to the hot caramel to make sweets ( caramels or toffee ) and boiled down, whereby milk protein is involved in the process.


In the kitchen, caramel is mainly used to make sweets such as roasted almonds or for desserts such as crème au caramel , crème brûlée , but also for pastries . Dark, scarcely sweet caramel is used to color sauces . This is used in the food industry as a special caramel, except for desserts, mainly as a coloring. The simple heating of sugar is usually not used for caramel colors. In addition to sugar, isomalt is suitable for making caramel, which is used in sugar-free confectionery.

Other meanings of the term "caramelize"

In the kitchen language, the term “caramelizing” is often used synonymously with sautéing (quick, hot searing) or for some preparations in the oven. So z. B. "Caramelized Onions" braised in the oven . Mainly Maillard reactions take place and to a lesser extent the carbohydrates contained are caramelized. In Maillard reactions, the contained proteins form other flavoring substances and some sucrose is caramelized, the combination results in a sweetish-spicy taste.


  • H. Hoffmann among others: Sugar and sugar confectionery. 2nd ed.; Behr's Verlag, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-86022-937-0 .

Web links

Commons : Caramel  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Caramel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Caramel, the. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (In the Etymology section).
  2. Entry on soft caramels. In: Römpp Online . Georg Thieme Verlag, accessed on January 2, 2015.
  3. ^ Josef Loderbauer: The confectioner's book in learning fields . Verlag Handwerk und Technik, Hamburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-582-40203-5 .
  4. About caramelization . Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Hans-Dieter Belitz , Werner Grosch, Peter Schieberle : Food chemistry . Springer, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-69935-4 , p. 270.