Dessert Day 2021: How The Art Of Caramel Making Evolved Over Time

Caramel, the “brown liquid gold” as it is often referred to, has a deep history. A simple caramel needs only three ingredients: sugar, butter and cream. But despite the ease in preparation, it never gets any glory and is usually cast-off as boring relative to chocolate (even though chocolate is much harder to work with and prepare). Caramel is so versatile that it can be made in a microwave!

Though candy predates caramel, it is assumed that caramels were the first modern candy prepared first in the year 1650. But candies then were far more brittle and less chewy. This all changed by the early nineteenth century when cooks started adding fats like milk and butter to candies. Fat brings a lot of complexity of taste as well as elasticity.

Caramels get most of their relish from the cooking of the sugar with the milk solids which kicks in the beautiful caramelised flavours. The history of caramel is not trivial because of its procedure (since it is so easy to make) but because of its mass consumption. 

Caramels To Toffee

If caramel is cooked enough, it can reach its candy temperature (which is the temperature at which caramel turns toffee). Around this temperature, the sugar crystallises and gets a stretchy chewy quality. If cooking is stopped a few degrees before this, caramel can be poured onto a flat surface to create caramel barks, which crunch toffee.

The manufacturers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took advantage of this temperature tampering. Hershey's, the company is known for making chocolates actually started by making caramel. Goetze’s Candy Company, too, got their start in caramel. 

Use Of Corn Syrup 

In the last couple of decades, sugar, the main ingredient in caramel, took a backseat to corn syrup. The use of corn syrup made the process of making caramel easier but it also meant that the burnt flavour of sugar that makes caramel so special got lost. That is one of the reasons why caramel nowadays is so sweet (there is no real sugar in the recipe to bring in that complexity). 

But despite everything, caramel is still popular. We have moved from toffees and candies to caramel flavoured foods like popcorn, ice cream and the infamous caramel sauce.