Where Did the Simple Old Caramel Get Its Modern-Day Sweet Tooth?

Caramel can take on a variety of textures and forms, making it an unpredictable but delightful ingredient. This golden treasure dates back centuries and was much more scarce than it is now. Therefore, let us go through time to discover the origins of this precious ingredient.  

Sweets without caramel would be boring. Nevertheless, why are sweets the only ones considered? And your beloved beverages, particularly those with a caramel-heavy flavour profile, might not fare as well. Also, chewy sweets and chocolates like 5-Star couldn't exist if it weren't for caramel. 

Caramel is a sweet treat that is prepared from sugar and water. To make the popular ingredient in a variety of soft types and colours, it is heavily sweetened with cream, milk, or butter. You can't help but notice caramel's subtle presence in nearly every recipe. Butterscotch ice cream, praline pastries, and even softer candy bars have it in their crunch. 

To get the ideal golden hue and flavour, it requires continuous monitoring, just like chocolate. Texture, colour, and softness are all affected by temperature. But how did this unassuming sweet become a dessert staple? We found out. 

The Story 

This is folklore that originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Caramel, which was supposedly found by the Arabs around 1000 AD, is an essential ingredient in many modern desserts. However, the ancient Arabs utilised it for aesthetic purposes, such as waxing and exfoliating, rather than making sweets. In due time, the Arabs came to appreciate caramel for its culinary uses. As they began to cook, the caramel began to solidify into bite-sized balls.  

The French invented caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel) a few centuries later. Since then, caramel's popularity has skyrocketed over the rest of Europe. The first Europeans to settle in the Americas used this ingredient in the mid-seventeenth century to make hard candies. 

Caramel Is Now Everywhere 

Before the 19th century, sugar wasn't as easy to find or cheap. As methods for preparing sugarcane got better, more home cooks and candy makers started to play around with caramel. After the Industrial Age, globalisation did the same thing, which made refined sugar easier to get. 

Because it added a touch of sophisticated elegance to sweets and made simple sugar taste richer and more complex, caramel's popularity skyrocketed. Bakeries and confectioners also started using caramel in their commercial experiments. Cakes, tarts, pastries, cookies, and all kinds of baked products could be topped with caramel sauce or filled with it. They found that fruits went particularly well with caramel sauces, which brought out the sweetness in the fruit. 

Caramel became even more famous after films like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" came out. Anyone would love to try some of Willy Wonka's candy from his strangely magical chocolate plant. 

A Look at the Textures 

Just like we said before, caramel gets its wonderful velvety texture from lipids. What goes into caramel and for how long is heavily influenced by the cooking time of sugar and other ingredients. Because of the short cooking time needed to make caramel in ancient times, when sugar was scarce, it would have had a hard, brittle feel. 

Dry caramel, if cooked for an extended period of time, will remain hard even when left out of the fridge; it works well as a topping or decoration. Caramel that has been cooked to a softball stage is ideal for making fudge, candy bars, or toffee since it is both chewy and flexible. 

The texture and consistency of uncooked caramel sauces are similar to that of a custard. While sauces that are undercooked have a thick consistency, they easily pour. Once heated, caramel sauce hardens firmly but melts when eaten. Caramels can range from firm to soft-chew, from stretched to airy, or from dense to creamy, all depending on the ingredients and the way they are cooked. 

Milkier caramels, made with condensed milk, gained popularity in the late 1800s due to the dairy's ability to provide a silkier texture to the caramel when cooked to perfection. 

Caramel Pairings 

The use of new technologies has made classic pairs that are now standard. Some are so well-known that it's hard to imagine life without them, like bread and butter. One of them is caramel popcorn. Every fancy popcorn shop will have caramel popcorn, and movie theatres will have the most of it. 

Interestingly, caramel also goes nicely with salt. Imagine latte art with salted caramel. When combined with caramel, fruits can also provide a pleasant surprise. Caramelises bananas and apples for a more delicious flavour. Just dip the fruits in caramel sauce or drizzle it over apple slices, and you're good to go. Caramel, in its many forms (essence, crispy balls, sauce), pairs well with ice cream as well.