When you think of caramel, what flavor profile do you think of?
At Eagle Beverage we are always trying to find the most authentic flavors, and this is a topic we have discussed numerous times with numerous customers. What do people think are the differences between caramel, toffee, and butterscotch flavors? The flavors are similar and differences are miniscule, but the opinions and perceptions people have of these flavors are immense!
The dictionary definition of caramel is cooked sugar that has changed color to a golden yellow/brown. Technically speaking, caramel refers to the complex chemical reaction that takes place when you heat sugar. When this process is occurring, sucrose gets hydrolyzed to fructose and glucose. Those simple sugars then undergo a condensation reaction to lose water, then a series of isomerizations, followed by further condensation reactions. The end products can then either fragment to form flavors, or polymerize to form colors. In commercial caramel flavor or color production, different pH and catalysts are used to direct the reaction in a particular direction.
Of course, most consumers identify caramel not by either of these two definitions – but by the candy! Caramel candy is made with milk, sugar, butter and corn syrup (sometimes vanilla flavor as well). This mixture is then heated to the “Firm ball” stage of 250° F, and when cooled this candy will range from soft to firm and chewy – but not brittle.
By comparison toffee is made by boiling molasses, brown sugar, or table sugar along with butter (and occasionally flour). The mixture is heated until its temperature reaches the hard crack stage of 300 to 310 °F, and becomes hard and brittle when cooled.
Butterscotch is made using very similar ingredients: brown sugar is often used along with butter (and sometimes vanilla). Unlike toffee however, the butterscotch mixture is heated only to the soft crack stage of 270-290° F, and thus is not as brittle as toffee.
These three slightly different processes – along with small variances in the ingredients – can lead to big differences in flavor, and long debates over what is a true caramel flavor versus a real toffee flavor versus the best butterscotch flavor.
We are constantly trying to improve our products by delivering the flavors the consumer desires. So, as always, feedback and comments are encouraged!