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Is Caramel Vegan?

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: December 5, 2021

To misquote Austen, it's a truth universally acknowledged that a vegan in a new city must be in want of some sweet, gooey caramel goodness.

Sadly, many of the most popular caramel candies, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s, and Baby Ruth, are made of animal by-products and are not vegan.

What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all forms of animal products. Vegans follow this diet out of concern for animal welfare and the ecosystem. However, many variations exist in what vegans believe, and many don't follow the diet to its full extent.

It can be hard to know about what exactly is and isn't vegan. Caramel, for instance, is a food that many people love. It is made by cooking down sugars with heat. The sugar becomes sticky, brown, and delicious.

Ingredients in Caramel

most common ingredients in caramel

Caramel is used in a vast range of different dishes. It is very versatile as an ingredient itself. Many people use it as a topping for ice cream, cookies, brownies, and pancakes.

You can use Caramel sauce to sweeten up a hot chocolate or a cup of coffee. But there have been a lot of questions raised about whether it is vegan-friendly! In this blog, we will look at the different ingredients in caramel and if the caramel is vegan or not.

The most common ingredients in caramel are sugar, water, corn syrup, soybean oil, and salt. It is often made by heating sugar to 300-degree Fahrenheit until it melts and cools down to 120-degree Fahrenheit to harden.

A non-polar solvent (usually ethyl alcohol) is added to prevent re-crystallization of the sugar. The liquid sugar-solvent mixture is then converted to caramel by the rearrangement of sugar molecules.

Dairy in Caramel

There are different ways to make caramel depending upon brands and where you are from. If caramel is made in the U.S., it is usually made in two stages.

There is also a third stage in making caramel, where the finished product is mixed with dairy products for flavor.

Some caramel manufacturing processes are more complex than others. But in all cases, it is the dairy that gives the finished product its characteristic flavor. Caramel is often made using dairy products in the form of butter, condensed milk, or heavy cream.

Caramel coloring, which is known as E150, is also non-vegan most of the time. Some caramel contains other animal-derived ingredients, which include gelatin or casein. Needless to say, we cannot categorize caramel as vegan once it consists of these items in it.

So, the question arises, is caramel vegan?

And if not, are there any vegan options? What are some excellent vegan caramel substitutes? Or if we should consume it at all?

Unfortunately, most caramels are not vegan. In the form of sauce or candies, most caramels in the market are loaded with dairy products. On top of that, the sugar used in all caramel types as the base ingredient is often not vegan.

Non-Vegan Sugar in Caramel

processed sugar in caramel

Although, sugar is vegan in its natural state since plants like beetroot or sugar cane make it. But when refined, filtered, and bleached, it becomes one of the most chemically manipulated substances in the food industry.

The refining process includes bone char, which comes from animal bones. It is not technically an animal product, but it is an animal by-product. The sugar manufacturers often try to hide this fact by calling bone char "natural char flavoring."

The truth is that the bone char in the sugar is not natural, and even though the final product, white sugar, does contain animals per se, you will still be partaking in animals, especially cow slaughtering, by opting for it.

Some sugars are also processed from honey which is collected from beehives. Additionally, certain sugars are processed with non-vegan products in a single processing unit. And that's not all!

It is also common to find additives and artificial ingredients with unrecognizable names like food dye, flavoring agent, and gelatin. They are not vegan food options as they contain dairy and animal by-products.

Alternatives for Vegan Caramel

Now, this is a sticky situation. Finding vegan alternatives to their favorite foods is often tricky for vegans. It can be confusing to determine if a product is vegan, especially when going through a long list of ingredients.

The tricky part is that a lot of dessert options contain caramel, and although the label includes it in the ingredients list, they don't mention whether it is vegan caramel or not. While caramel is not strictly vegan, there are plenty of vegan caramel substitutions that you can use in its place.

If caramel is labeled vegan, it has likely been made with a sugar and dairy substitute, such as rice syrup, which is vegan friendly. Unless it is explicitly said, it probably contains non-vegan substances. So, to be on the safer side, avoid foods that contain caramel if you are strictly vegan. If you are still curious whether a specific brand of caramel is vegan, you can contact the manufacturer to ask about its production methods.

Or easier even, you can make your caramel sauce at home using some simple ingredients for a bit of effort by using certified sugar or maple syrup and non-dairy milk options like almond milk, coconut milk, or soy milk.

You can even make it in a large quantity and incorporate this delectable topping into your vegan recipes. Drizzle it on top of a layer of cake. Coat apple with this sweet treat during Halloween or enjoy the gooey goodness encased by chocolate in bite-sized candies.

Don’t Assume Caramel is Vegan

In this article, we have elaborated on the difference between caramel made from non-vegan products and made from other ingredients. If you're a vegan, you might enjoy a little treat from time to time, but make sure you're doing it right.

Several different kinds of caramel are produced in different ways. Some are made with dairy, while some are made with soy or coconut milk. As a result, it can be challenging to answer the question "Is caramel vegan?" without knowing more about the specific type of caramel in question. It's a great question and one that seems to come up quite often.

Happy eating!


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