What Is Caramel and How Do You Pronounce It Correctly?

I hate to date myself, but I swear when I was a kid they still had penny candy available at one of the grocery stores near where I grew up (it actually cost 5 whole cents a piece, though, so I’m not that old). Next to the bread aisle there was a large shelving unit with multiple drawers, each containing a different candy, as well as a locked coin slot. You’d put your change in the slot and grab whatever candies you wanted to munch on as you did the rest of your grocery shopping.

There were a few obviously superior options amongst the penny (aka nickel) candy. There were root beer barrels, the sarsaparilla-flavored hard candy that gave you the most bang for your buck. There were classic peppermints, which are as comforting and delicious as they are ubiquitous. But best of all were the little caramel squares. They came in a little cellophane wrapper and their sweet gooeyness made even the most annoying trip to the grocery store somewhat enjoyable.

So, sure, caramel is delicious. But what is caramel, exactly? What is it made of? Where does it come from? Let’s dig in. 

What is caramel made of?

At its most basic, caramel is simply sugar that has been heated and undergone the caramelization process (hence the name). However, many caramel recipes call for butter, cream, and/or milk, as well. 

How to pronounce caramel?

The debate rages: Should you say it like “kar-mel” or like “care-a-mel?” Or how about “kar-a-mel?” Are there two syllables or three in this word? The answer is that all are acceptable! Werther’s has a fun breakdown on their site of how people in different regions within the U.S. pronounce this delicious treat. 

How do you make caramel?

Now that you know what the stuff is, you may be wondering: How is caramel made? It’s really quite simple. You take sugar, heat it slowly to around 340 degrees Fahrenheit, and wait for it to brown. That’s caramel! At this point, you can also add butter, and then cream, to give it a more velvety, luxurious texture. And if you’re trying to make salted caramel, don’t forget to add plenty of sea salt into the mixture.  

Does caramel have dairy?

Heated sugar—caramel at its most basic—has no dairy. However, butter and cream are often called for in caramel recipes, so be sure you know how the caramel was made if you’re trying to avoid milk products.

Is caramel vegan?

Since caramel is essentially just sugar, in its purest form, it should be totally acceptable for vegans. Take caution, however, that caramel is often mixed with butter or cream, like in caramel sauce for ice cream, which would not be in the vegan category. And, of course, if honey is used at all as a sweetener, that would be a no-no as well. Be sure to double check any labels for safety’s sake. 

Is caramel gluten free?

While nobody would claim that caramel is a health food, one advantage it does have is that it is gluten free. So, if you have gluten sensitivity, you can still enjoy a salted caramel square worry-free. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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