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Caramel

Do you say kar-ah-mel, kare-ah-mel, kar-mel or kar-mul?


Accord- ing to most dictionaries, either kar-ah-mel or karmel is correct, regardless of what aspect of caramel youre
trying to describe.
Besides being a fancy word for a shade of brown, caramel
can either be a chewy sweet or a burnt sugar concoction
used as a flavor or colorant. Caramel can vary in color
from a deep brown to a light tan.
How does caramel candy get its color? From
caramelization, right?
Wrong.
Do this experiment at home. Put a pair of pots side-by-side
on the stove. In one, put a mixture of sugar and corn syrup
and in the other, the same mixture of sugar and corn
syrup with a little evaporated or powdered milk. Set the
burners to medium, stir constantly, and observe the colors
that develop as the mix- tures cook.
The mixture with milk starts to get brown when the
temperature reaches the 2252308F range, and continues
to deepen in color as temperature reaches 240250
degrees. This is how caramel candies are made.
On the other hand, the sugarcorn syrup mixture doesnt
start to turn really brown until the temperature reaches
270280 degrees. As the temperature exceeds 300
degrees, the color gradu- ally becomes darker and darker.
At higher temperatures, even darker colors are formed.
This is how caramel colorants and flavor- ants are
produced.
The reaction that gives color development in the simple
sugar mixture is called caramelization. The heat causes
the sugars to
undergo a complex series of reactions, with the end result
being the formation of volatile flavors and polymeric
caramellans.

This type of caramel is added to colas and soy sauce,


among other foods, to provide color and flavor.
The caramel candy mixture, sugar, and corn syrup with
evapo- rated milk turns brown at lower temperatures
because certain sugars react with the milk proteins. This is
the same reaction Maillard browning that turns toast
brown and gives raisins their brown color. Interestingly,
despite the name, caramel candy doesnt get its color
from the caramelization reaction.
How is caramel on a stick different from the gooey
caramel inside a chocolate-covered candy? Its mostly due
to the water content, governed by the temperature to
which the caramel mass is cooked. Cooking to higher
temperatures, like 270 or 280 degrees, leads to a dark
brown caramel and also reduces the water content. At
lower water content, the caramel, which is an amorphous
sugar protein matrix with small fat globules dispersed
throughout, is extremely viscous, has a firm texture, and
stands up to its own weight when cooled.
Caramels cooked to lower temperatures not only have a
lighter color, but they also contain more water. This gives
them a soft runny characteristic. Since the higher water
content gives a less viscous mass, they exhibit cold flow
the ability of an amorphous matrix to gradually flow at
room temperature, eventually forming a puddle of
caramel.
Caramels can also have whats called a short texture. To
demonstrate this, find a standard commercial caramel, the
ones that come in the shape of a cube, and a fresh
homemade caramel. Grab the homemade caramel by two
ends and slowly pull it apart. It stretches and stretches as
you separate your hands, until even- tually the long
caramel string breaks. This is characteristic of a chewy
caramel.
Now do the same with the commercial caramel. It should
only stretch by an inch or two before the strand breaks.
This is the short characteristic, caused by the presence
of small sugar crystals that break up the stretchy
proteinsugar strands.
So, regardless of whether you say kar-ah-mel or kar-mel,
rest assured that candy makers go to great lengths to

make their candy just the way you like it: dark or light,
hard or soft, short or chewy.
Just dont ask for a caramel in England they call it toffee
there.
Caramelization and caramels are not the same.
Yes, its a little bit confusing, but youll get it in a minute.
Caramels are the chewy candies you are familiar with. Theyre
made by cooking sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter to 245
F. Their brown color comes from a reaction between the sugar
and the protein in the cream. This reaction is called the
Maillard reaction, after the French scientist who discovered it.
The rich brown color of toasted nuts and barbecued meats also
comes from the Maillard reaction.
Put simply, the Maillard reaction occurs when part of the sugar
molecule (the aldehyde group, if you must know) reacts with
the nitrogen part of the protein molecule (an amino group).
The resulting series of reactions is not well understood even by
food scientists, but it leads to the brown color and many
flavorful compounds that are yet to be identified.

Caramelization is what happens to pure sugar when it reaches


338 F. A few tablespoons of sugar put in a pan and heated
will eventually melt and, at 338 F, start to turn brown. At this
temperature, the sugar compounds begin to break down and
new compounds form.
As with the Maillard reaction, the details of what happens
during caramelization arent well understood. But the results
are appreciated all the same. For example, caramelized sugar
is often used as decoration on fancy desserts. Try caramelizing
sugar yourselfits easy!