Caramel is a confection made by the process of heating sugar to a certain level. Caramel is of usually dark brown color but it is also observed to have beige color in few instances. The heating process of sugar involves the temperature around 170 degrees Celsius. At this temperature the sugar molecules break and water is evaporated from them. After a certain temperature, sugar molecules form into compounds and attain a certain kind of texture and color. The caramel tastes rather bitter in spite of containing lots of sugar. Various caramel recipes are popular in international cuisine. For example, caramel puddings, caramel candies and caramel topped ice cream.
History and Origin of Caramel
It is believed that Americans were the first ones to start the process of caramelization of sugar. American women use to make sugar candies by heating sugar with milk, around 17th century. In this way they learned how to make a candy but the texture was little hard. In 1850, it was observed that addition of milk and little butter or oil may give chewy texture to the sugar mixture and the resultant mixture became famous as ‘caramel’. The first commercial caramel candy making was started by Milton Hersheys in the end of 1800’s. Since then caramel recipes and caramel candies became a hit all over the world.
Culinary Use of Caramel
Due to its sweet taste, caramel is fondly used in making desserts and sweet dishes. Caramel candies are world famous due to their chewy texture. Various kinds of chocolates and toffees are made with this sweet confection. Caramel dishes also include the famous ‘bonbon’ that is filled with the chewy sweet caramel. Custard and ice creams such as ‘butterscotch’ are the best examples of caramel recipes. Even cakes and various other confectionery items are made with caramel topping. Fruits are also caramelized and served as desserts. Various sweets use caramel instead of sugar to give color as well as flavor to the dish. Few beverages and colas use caramel coloring as a sweetening and coloring agent. Caramel serves as a sweet chewy topping for milk shakes and pancakes. Varied uses of caramel make it a most favorite ingredient for bakers and confectioners.
Popular Recipes of Caramel
• Caramel candy – This is one of the most popular caramel recipes across the world. It is first made in America from where it has spread its popularity in almost all parts of the world. It is a hard but chewy confection and well-liked by kids as well as adults.
• Caramel Apple – It is another popular caramel dish that can be either served as a dessert or eaten as a sweet snack. Fresh apple is used to make this delectable dish. Apple is dipped in caramel and kept for drying on a stick. It is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving recipe.
• Peanut brittle – Among the caramel recipes, this is one of the most admired. Though it requires a certain level of caramelization so that the caramel reaches a crack stage, but once it is made it can be served fondly as a snack. Any type of nut can be used to make brittle.
• Caramel corn – The major part of this recipe is similar to peanut brittle but instead of peanuts, corns are used either plain or with exotic flavors of fruits or chocolate. It is a very popular fair and carnival food item.
Cuisines Commonly Making Caramel Dishes
Since Americans are the first ones to introduce caramel, it is a popular confection in American cuisine. Flavorful candies, toffees, ice creams and desserts are made in American cuisine with caramel flavoring or topping. Certain beverages such as coffee, milk shakes and even colas are flavored with caramel. Caramel recipes prevailing in American cuisine are famous around the globe and prepared with little or no variations. In Indian cuisine also caramel dishes are quite popular. Caramel is made with either sugar or with jaggery. It is often added to Indian puddings and sweet dishes such as ‘kheer’. The Indian version of peanut brittle is known as ‘mungphali ki chikki’ and it is widely eaten in winters as a sweet snack. Caramelized fruits are commonly served as dessert in Chinese as well as Japanese cuisines. Even European cuisine has a long list of caramel recipes.
Preferred Methods of Making Caramel Dishes
• Filling – Caramel is often filled in sweets and candies to give chewy flavor to them. Bonbon is the best example for this.
• Baked – Caramel is commonly added to baked items.
• Coated – Fruits and nuts are usually coated in caramel to make sweet chewy snacks.
• Frozen –Caramel ice creams and certain desserts are frozen in order to get desired texture.
Nutritive Value of Caramel
Caramel is a sugar-based confection that is rich in energy-providing carbohydrates. Sugar molecules break down in the process of caramelization. Hence very little nutritional value is left in the caramel, but it has a property to keep us full for a longer period of time. Certain vitamins, minerals and fibers are also present in caramel dishes due to the presence of sugar and other ingredients.
Consumption Criteria of Caramel
Caramel is high in calories due to excessive amount of sugar. The regular consumption of this sweet confection leads to tooth decay. Caramel recipes are not recommended for diabetics and obese people.
Buying and Storing of Caramel Dishes
Caramel dishes and caramel recipes such as candies, ice creams and puddings should be purchased from trusted grocery stores or confectionery stores. It should be ensured that high-class sugar is used to make caramel. Though caramel recipes can be easily made at home caramel candies and certain sweet products are usually difficult to make at home hence can be bought from market. Storage of caramel is not a messy and tedious task. Caramel is not a highly perishable food item thus it can be stored in cold and dry room temperature. Caramel dishes should be kept in refrigerator depending upon the other ingredients in the recipe.
Types of Caramel
Caramel is based on two types:
• White sugar caramel – It is made by heating the white granulated sugar to a certain level. It is generally used as sugar syrup. It should be heated carefully otherwise sugar may burn and gives an odorous substance.
• Brown sugar caramel – This type of caramel is prepared with brown sugar. Special technique is used to make brown sugar caramel. This is mainly used to make caramelized apple and caramel candies.
Caramel : Trivia
Caramel is also known as ‘burnt sugar’ and it is widely used as a coloring agent.