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Caramel, a confection characterized by its mix of sweet and complex flavors, has been captivating culinary enthusiasts for centuries. It is an intriguing product where sugar and milk are subjected to a complex chemical transformation. This thermal decomposition process results in a variety of new compounds, imparting caramel with its distinctive flavor and golden-brown color.

Caramelization involves intricate chemical reactions, including sugar caramelization and the Maillard reaction, frequently called nonenzymatic browning reaction, involving amino acids and reducing sugars such as fructose and glucose, resulting in the formation of a wide range of compounds responsible for the diverse and intense flavors and aromas mix contributing to caramel's flavor profile. An array of brown pigments, called melanoids, further enrich the sensory experience of caramel.

The Maillard reaction is highly temperature-dependent, manifesting more rapidly at elevated temperatures. Furthermore, maintaining the appropriate pH level is a critical factor in controlling the Maillard browning pathways, which significantly influences caramel quality. Therefore, precise temperature and pH control in the caramel pre-mix are imperative to achieve the desired characteristics and flavor in the final caramel product.

Caramel’s texture can go from creamy smooth syrup to a hard candy confection. This will determine the type of sweeteners and final moisture required after cooking the mix. If crystallization is promoted, caramel will become a Fudge.

Main Ingredients

The main ingredients in caramel confections are sweeteners and milk, but there are other ingredients that will be useful to differentiate the textures, flavor, stability and overall consumer experience.

  • Sweeteners: Will provide bulk, sweetness and the necessary reducing ends for caramelization and Maillard reactions. Sucrose being the main sweetener used along with corn syrup, invert sugar, or High fructose corn syrup to modify texture, viscosity and as a doctoring agent to prevent crystallization, if this is desired
  • Dairy products: Milk ingredients are added in different forms, depending on specific attributes desired in the caramel (such as whey) to add higher amounts of lactose and decrease costs. Adding the proteins, caseinates or protein isolates help to avoid lactose and take advantage of the protein characteristics to modify viscosity and reduce cold flow, fluid milk. Sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and dry milk powders reduce the water added into the formulation. Cream softens the texture. Butter and other fats contribute to a smoother mouthfeel and hardened vegetable fats contribute to the hardness and stand-up qualities of the caramel while avoiding rancidity.
  • Emulsifiers:  Prevent separation of the fats, creating a stable mixture. Common emulsifiers are lecithin, Mono- and diglycerides.
  • Texture modifiers: Such as gelatin, pectin, flour or starch. 
  • pH modifiers: To control the reactions taking place and avoid protein denaturation. Some of them are sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate.
  • Flavors: Most common flavors that will complement consumer experience are vanilla, cocoa or chocolate flavor, sea salt, and spices, among others. 
  • Inclusions: Nuts, dried fruits, chocolate pieces, etc.

Industrial Production

Industrial caramel production requires precision and uniformity for mass-scale operations. It entails a series of stages and employs specialized equipment:

Mixing and Dissolution: Sugar, milk and fats and other constituents are mixed  and dissolved in water, typically within substantial stainless-steel tanks, utilizing controlled heating and agitation for homogenous integration.

Emulsification/ homogenization: This step will be helpful to break down fat globules and assure fat is mixed within the candy slurry in smaller particles and void its separation. 

Cooking/Caramelization: The syrup is heated in a dedicated vessel, like a copper kettle or stainless-steel tank, to reach the desired caramelization temperature. Enough time at temperatures above about 110 °C (230 °F) is needed to allow browning reactions. Automated systems are often employed to ensure precision.

Cooling and Shaping: Upon achieving the desired caramelization state, the caramel is cooled (either cold table or cooling wheel) and shaped utilizing machinery like rollers or molds, with certain facilities featuring continuous cooking and cooling lines for efficiency.

Packaging: The finalized caramel is packaged for distribution, employing suitable packaging materials such as airtight containers or moisture-resistant wraps to maximize shelf life.


Balance between Sucrose and Corn Syrup will determine the main texture and stand of properties of the caramel, while fats can be used also to avoid cold flow and change mouthfeel experience. 

Experimenting with different dairy products, that will have different levels of fat, protein, lactose and water, can lead to interesting products with a variety of flavors and colors and help on trouble shooting during manufacturing.

Time given to caramelization step will affect directly in the formation of flavor and color compounds.

A Meticulous Emulsification step will ensure a seamless, well-integrated mixture.

Use of salts will help pH to be closer to neutral, helping in efficient Maillard reactions, but a slightly acidic pH during cooking will help in creating reducing sugars from sucrose if there are not enough in the formulation.

*Dairy ingredients can be evaporated milk, dried milk powder, sweetened condensed milk.

Packaging Barrier Properties

Shelf Life

The shelf life of caramel is influenced by variables many variables such as :

  • Moisture Absorption: Caramels can absorb moisture from the environment, leading to stickiness, loss of texture or even crystallization when not desired. Proper packaging, such as moisture-barrier wrappers, can help mitigate this issue.
  • Crystallization: Temperature fluctuations, high humidity, presence of residual seed crystals from improper cooking and dissolving, or a formulation issue can cause crystalization, resulting in a grainy or gritty texture. 
  • Texture Changes: These changes are influenced by various factors, including ingredients, packaging, and storage conditions. Hardening is the most common specially with those with higher sugar content and as the candy losses moisture. Staleness can affect the chewiness, When moisture is lost, the candy can become stiffer and less flexible. Sticking is also a big issue specially in humid conditions as the candy absorbs moisture.
  • Fat Oxidation: This can result in undesirable changes in texture, flavor, and aroma. The candy may develop a stale or off-flavor, impacting its overall quality and consumer appeal specially for those with high fat content.
  • Cold flow: This is related to moisture content after cooking and moisture absorption during shelf life. Candies will lose shape and take the shape of the container/packaging where it’s stored. Using a hardened fat can help with this issue as well.

To extend the shelf life of Caramels, manufacturers often use moisture-resistant packaging, employ moisture control techniques during production, and store the candies in a controlled environment with stable temperature and humidity conditions.

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