Caramels create tantalizing opportunities

By Jennifer Chaffin

For something that starts out as a simple blend of cooked milk and sugar, caramel certainly punches above its weight when it comes to flavor delivery and aroma complexity. That’s why taking a kitchen-style caramel sauce and evolving it into a caramel ice cream variegate is one of our more challenging and rewarding opportunities.

First, let’s look at the chemistry. As the milk and sugar begin to heat and cook, reactions occur within their chemical structure that produce the unmistakable color, flavor and aroma of caramel. At that point however, things begin to get interesting. As the caramelization process continues, the mixture forms hundreds of new, aromatic compounds:

  • Esters and lactones produce sweet rum and creamy notes
  • Furans offer up nutty flavor
  • Maltol creates a sweet, toasty and marshmallow taste

Some of this can be manipulated by varying the milk and sugar sources to produce differences in the caramels they combine to create. For instance, at Sensient we use sweetened condensed milk, cream, milk powders and non-dairy milks to vary the flavor, viscosity and economy of its caramels. Our flavorists also use sugar, brown sugar, fructose, corn syrup, honey and maple to sweeten and put a different signature on our caramels. All these sugars provide functionality far beyond sweetness; they not only affect the sauce’s browning, but also improve the products’ safety by increasing the solids (some sweeteners prevent crystallization).

When it comes to caramel, however, Sensient doesn’t stop with the combinations of milk and sugar. We also customize our caramels with these ingredients:

  • Butter, as it adds unique notes, as well as richness and mouthfeel
  • Neutral fats like coconut oil add texture and viscosity without strongly affecting flavor
  • Acidulates, like citric acid or lemon juice, add flavor notes and enhance flavor

Stabilizers allow caramels to take on different textures and viscosity (such as a caramel that can be cut, one that can stand up in an ice-cream cone core or can string, such as those in candy bars)

And of course, flavors! They help transform the experience. Some of our favorites include cinnamon, cardamom, bourbon and even lavender-honey caramel.

Let Sensient’s flavor technologists work with your team to devise a unique caramel flavor perfect for your product needs.