Caramel is a candy substance obtained by heating sugar.
Sugar starts to melt at about 135 °C (270 °F), without changing its color. The process called caramelisation starts when sugar is heated to at least 150 °C (300 °F), and more often to around 170 °C (340 °F).
As the sugar heats, the molecules break down and re-form into compounds with a characteristic color and flavor.
Caramels vary in consistency between the short, or soft, and the long, or more chewy types depending upon the proportions of ingredients.
Caramel sauce is made by mixing caramelized sugar with cream. Depending on the intended application, additional ingredients such as butter, fruit purees, liquors, or vanilla can be used. Caramel sauce is used in a variety of desserts, especially as a topping for ice cream.
Salted caramel is a noticeably salty variant. It was invented in 1977 by the French pastry chef Henri Le Roux in Quiberon, Brittany, in the form of a salted butter caramel with crushed nuts (caramel au beurre salé), using the famous Breton demi-sel butter. It was named the “Best Candy in France” (Meilleur Bonbon de France) at the Paris Salon International de la Confiserie in 1980.
Caramel coloring is a dark bitter-tasting liquid. It is what is made after near-total caramelisation. It is then bottled to be used for other things. It is used as food coloring and in beverages like cola.
Toffee, sometimes called “caramel candy”, is a soft, dense, chewy candy made by boiling a mixture of milk or cream, sugar, glucose and butter.
The word “caramel” comes from French caramel, borrowed from Spanish caramelo (18th century), itself possibly from Portuguese caramel. Most likely that comes from Late Latin calamellus “sugar cane.”
In 950 AD Arabs had invented caramel. First caramel was made by crystallizing sugar in boiling water, and was hard and crunchy.
It’s believed that American settlers were making caramel in kettles. This was around 1650.
Between 1650 and the early 1880’s, some ingenious candy maker added fat and milk while boiling sugar and water, creating what is now known as caramel candy.
By the mid-1800s, there were nearly 400 American candy manufacturers that were producing primarily hard caramels often sold in general stores—they were cheap to make, easy to transport, and did not spoil easily.
Caramels were made at these small confectioneries as well. In fact, Milton Hershey began his chocolate empire not with chocolate, but with caramel. Hershey was born in 1857 in Pennsylvania, and rather than become a printer, he founded a candy-making business in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.