Making Caramel

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The usual technique for making caramel is to mix table sugar with some water, then heat until the water has boiled off and the molten sugar colors. Why add water if the first thing you do is boil it off? Water makes it possible to cook the sugar over high heat from the very beginning without the danger of burning it. In addition, the presence of water prolongs the period during which the syrup is cooked, gives these reactions more time to proceed, and develops a stronger flavor than heating the sugar on its own very quickly. And water enhances the conversion of sucrose into its glucose and fructose components. Cooking the syrup in the microwave oven has been found to produce a somewhat different spectrum of flavors than ordinary stovetop cooking.