How do you control sugar caramelization?

1 Answer 1


I am not sure what your specific problem is, so here is some general advice on making candy and caramel.

As for control, the normal method is to control it with a thermometer. (They are even called "candy thermometers"). The thermometer should have a very fast reaction time, and be capable of measuring in fractions of grades (one digit after the decimal point is enough even for Celsius measurements).

You should also have a source of heat which is as responsive as possible. Induction and gas work best. If using resistive electricity, be prepared to yank the pan away from the heat a degree or two before the temperature limit is reached (you must calculate some carryover: The heat from the pan will continue to heat up the syrup even after the source of heat has been removed. Expect more carryover from copper core than pure steel, and more from steel than from aluminum).

The caramelization of pure sucrose begins at around 160°C, but if you mixed in other types of sugar, it is different. For any type of suger, with rising time and rising temperature, you get a darker, less sweet caramel. It is up to you which kind you want, but the very light kinds don't have the complex aroma of the middle hued ones, and the very dark ones are somewhat harsh.

There are charts for the stages of sugar syrup (threads, soft ball, etc) and the corresponding temperatures. They determine not only the degree of caramelization, but also the hardness of the finished candy. It is easy to find an English language one with Google, try this one. A bit of search should turn up some which contain photographies of the candy instead of penciled illustrations. Use such a chart when making candy, you need it.

Another variable in candy comes with your ingredients. Acids will soften caramel. Enough of them will keep it liquid. Milk and cream will soften it too. Pay attention to when and how you are adding them. If you let dairy products sit in the pan for too long, they'll develop their own scalded milk flavor. Also, don't add cold liquids to hot caramel, it will seize up.

That's about it, if you can point out specific problems you are having, it will be easier to help you.

  • 1
    It's also a good idea to have a stout bowl of cold water on hand. You can then carefully dip the pan in the water, being extremely aware of steam, to help arrest the cooking process and prevent the caramel from going 'to far'. Apr 13, 2011 at 13:16
  • @ElendilTheTall, this is very good for the candy and very bad for the pan. I guess it is a matter of which matters to you more.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 13, 2011 at 13:31
  • @rumscho, why is it bad for the pan?
    – nixy
    Apr 13, 2011 at 16:41
  • @nixy, metal expands when hot and shrinks when cold. When this happens too quickly, it causes metal fatigue. Imagine the atoms suddenly crowding each other when shrinking. Worse, it doesn't happen evenly (think hotspots) so it can cause invisibly small cracks. The big temp. gradient through the pan thickness isn't good either, and the situation worsens with sandwiched bottoms, because their layers shrink at different rates. I have even read that a hot iron pan immersed in cold water can crack in your hand, but never seen hard evidence for that last claim.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 13, 2011 at 17:39
  • @rumtscho At 160°C steel is just going to have a mild tempering effect when cooled suddenly. It would take a much higher temperature of a large number of repetitions to make it brittle. A good pan should survive cold water as this is often part of cooking processes e.g. de-glazing
    – TFD
    Apr 13, 2011 at 22:23

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