caramel have dairy

Does Caramel Have Dairy?

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Sometimes, working out what does and does not have dairy can be tricky, as it isn’t always so obvious without looking at the ingredient list.

One such ingredient is caramel – this delicious, golden syrup-like ingredient is used to top ice cream, cakes, and anything else you want really, but it isn’t so clear whether it contains dairy or not.

Does caramel have dairy?

Caramel does have dairy, and dairy forms one of the main ingredients in caramel. Most of the bulk of caramel is made from animal products, such as butter and heavy cream, so it is not suitable for a vegan diet.

To find out more about caramel and the ingredients used to make it, read on for all the information, to help you decide whether caramel is right for your diet or not!

What Is Caramel?

Caramel is a candy or sauce created when sugar is heated to exactly 340 degrees Fahrenheit. The molecules in the sugar break down when heated, and the new compound formed has a rich, deep flavor with a golden brown color – this process is known as caramelization.

The sugar caramel can be left as is, but it is most commonly then mixed in with cream or milk, to make a sauce or dessert. There are many different uses for caramel, from a binder for candy to a sauce on ice cream, and everything in-between.

Is There Dairy in Caramel?

At its very basic, caramel is made from sugar alone. However, the caramel we purchase from the store, or ask to be drizzled on top of our ice cream cone, more often than not, contains dairy.

It is safer to assume that all caramel you purchase contains dairy and check the ingredient list from there.

Once the sugar has been melted to form caramel, it is then mixed with cream, milk, or other similar ingredients, to make a soft caramel candy, a caramel sauce, or a dessert topping.

What Ingredients Is Caramel Made From?

Caramel is made using only a few simple ingredients, and it can sometimes be made using only three ingredients.

These are the main three ingredients used to make caramel:

White Sugar

White sugar is the main ingredient used to make caramel. It is not a dairy product, but many people who follow a vegan diet choose to avoid white sugar, as a large portion of white sugar sold on the market is bleached using animal char.

white sugar

White sugar is heated to 340 degrees Fahrenheit and then caramelizes, which is what forms the rich flavor and golden color of caramel.


Butter is a dairy product, and it makes a huge difference to the overall flavor and texture of caramel. It is added to the caramel to thicken it, and it helps to add a creamy richness to the caramel too.


Heavy Cream

Heavy cream is obviously a dairy product, and it is a vital ingredient when making caramel, especially a caramel sauce.

heavy cream

When added to caramel, heavy cream helps to make the caramel more pourable, while giving it a rich and creamy taste.

Other than these ingredients – salt is often added into caramel, just a pinch, to take away some of the bitterness that occurs during the caramelization process, and to bring out the sweetness of the sugar – this is why salted caramel is so popular!

What Is Caramel Used For?

Caramel can be used in many ways, as it can be made in a few different forms. Without dairy, just made with sugar, caramel is consumed as a candy, as it is quite hard. It can also be used to bind different candies, such as pralines, peanut brittle, and caramel corn.

It is also used as a layer on some classic desserts, such as creme brulee and flan, where it can either be left soft or hardened. This type of caramel is usually just made from sugar and water and is known as clear caramel.

The caramel you purchase from the store, in a can or in a sauce bottle, can be used to make different desserts, acting as a layer in a trifle or as a topping for ice cream. It can be used to flavor different sweet treats and much more.

Is There Dairy-Free Caramel?

Technically, basic, sugar-only caramel is dairy-free, as it is made from sugar and water (although many vegans choose to avoid white sugar due to the bleaching with the animal bone char process).

dairy-free caramel

This is called clear caramel, where there is no dairy added, but this caramel cannot be used the same way that caramel sauce or tinned caramel can.

However, there are some great vegan caramel options, many of which you can make at home yourself. You might be lucky enough to find a vegan caramel at the store, but if you wanted to make it at home, you could switch the butter for vegan butter, and the milk for coconut milk.

There are quite a few dairy-replacement options to choose from, so you still get to enjoy the flavor and richness of caramel, without having to consume any dairy or animal products.

What Is the Difference Between Caramel, Butterscotch and Toffee?

Caramel, butterscotch, and toffee all seem quite similar, and the process of making them is similar too, but they are all different candies or ingredients.

Caramel is made with white sugar, heated to 340 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas toffee and butterscotch are made with brown sugar or molasses, and almost always have brown sugar added in.

butterscotch toffee

Butterscotch and toffee are also cooked to different stages than caramel, where they are needed to reach a certain temperature, between 270 and 310 degrees Fahrenheit, which is lower than that of caramel.

Specifically, butterscotch is boiled to the stage called the soft crack stage at 270 to 290 degrees Fahrenheit, which is where it will be softer, whereas toffee is boiled to the hard crack stage at 300 to 310 degrees Fahrenheit, where the toffee becomes more brittle, and cracks easier.

All three, toffee, caramel, and butterscotch, have that golden-brown color and rich, deep caramel flavor, but they are made differently with different ingredients.

What Does Caramel Taste Like?

Caramel is loved because of its flavor, so it is worth noting what this is. Caramel has a very sweet taste, thanks to the large amount of sugar needed to make it. This is quite rich, and as the sugar caramelizes, it gives the caramel a deep, strong, bitter flavor too.

When butter, salt, and heavy cream are added to the caramel, it becomes creamier and richer, and the sweetness, cream, and salt balance out the bitterness of the caramelization to create a beautiful, golden-rich sauce.

Is There a Vegan Recipe for Caramel?

As mentioned above, you can make your own vegan caramel at home, one which does not contain any dairy, either from butter or heavy cream, and which does not contain white sugar, which may have been bleached using animal bone char.

A good recipe to follow for this is to use ¼ cup coconut oil, ¼ cup maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of almond butter. You would first melt the syrup and the oil together, and then whisk in the butter to add creaminess.

Once this is done, you could sprinkle in a pinch of salt, and even some cinnamon for added flavor.

This will obviously not give you an exact replica of caramel made using dairy, but it comes close, and it is a great way to enjoy the caramel flavor without any dairy products!

How Do You Store Caramel With Dairy?

If you purchase caramel made with dairy from the store, or if you have made your own batch at home, then it is best to keep it stored in the fridge, either in the original packaging or in an air-tight container.

As milk is perishable, the caramel will eventually spoil if left for too long, but the high sugar content does help to preserve it for longer.

Does Caramel Have Dairy?

Plain, basic caramel, made with sugar and water, does not have dairy, but the caramel you purchase from the store in a tin or as a sauce, will more than likely contain dairy, in the form of butter and heavy cream.

If you love the taste of caramel, but cannot have dairy in your diet, then there are some dairy substitutes you can use to make vegan caramel, such as using almond butter instead of butter, and coconut milk instead of heavy cream.

It is safer to assume that caramel will have dairy in it, so make sure to check the ingredient list.

Related Questions

Does the Caramel at Starbucks Have Dairy?

The caramel sauce sold at Starbucks does contain dairy, but the caramel syrup does not. You should make a point of asking at the till when ordering, which is included in your drink, or request the right one for your diet.

Can I Have Caramel if I am Lactose Intolerant?

You should avoid caramel if you are lactose intolerant, as it often contains milk or heavy cream, which contains lactose.

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