Caramel (pronounced /ˈkærəmɛl/ or /ˈkɑrməl/) is a beige to dark brown confection made by heating any of a variety of sugars. It is used as a flavoring in puddings and desserts, as a filling in bonbons, and as a topping for ice cream and custard.
The process of caramelization consists of heating sugar slowly 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.
A variety of candies, confections, and desserts are made with caramel: caramel apples, pralines, nougats, brittles, crème caramel, and crème brûlée.
Most linguists trace the origin of the word to medieval Latin "cannamellis", or "honey cane" (that is, sugar cane), or from Latin "callamellus" (little reed, also presumably referring to sugar cane). Some have suggested its origin in the Arabic phrase "kurat al milh" كرات الملح which means "ball of sweet salt".
Caramelization is the removal of water from a sugar, proceeding to isomerization and polymerization of the sugars into various high-weight compounds. Compounds such as difructose-anhydride may be created from the monosaccharides after water loss. Fragmentation reactions result in low-molecular-weight compounds which may be volatile and may contribute to flavor. Polymerization reactions lead to larger molecular weight compounds, which contribute to the dark brown color.
Caramel candy is a soft, dense, chewy candy made by boiling a mixture of milk or cream, sugar, butter, vanilla essence, and (more common in commercial production) glucose or corn syrup. It can also be made with chocolate. It is not heated above the firm ball stage (120 °C (250 °F)), so there is almost no caramelization. This type of candy is often called milk caramel.
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