I've always thought they were the same. Tonight I noticed a slight taste difference as compared to caramel when I had some "butterscotch" for the first time in a while. Now my assumptions have been thrown to the wind. Is butterscotch essentially caramel plus some liquor?
Butterscotch and caramel are very different things. The taste difference between the two is far from 'slight' in my opinion.
Caramel is typically made with granulated sugar, milk and/or cream, butter, and sometimes vanilla. The primary flavors of caramel are the sugar and milk/cream.
Butterscotch on the other hand is made with brown sugar. It's primary flavors are brown sugar and butter. It typically also contains milk/cream but they are not as prominent as caramel.
Toffee is butterscotch that has been cooked to the hard-crack stage.
There is no liquor in butterscotch.
There is a lot of leeway in what things get called caramel, butterscotch, and toffee. The important differences to keep in mind are that caramel is made with granulated sugar, whereas toffee and butterscotch are made with brown sugar and much more butter.
interesting, wondering if you've ever had sticky toffee pudding? It's basically an awesome cake on top of a pool of "toffee". I'm wondering if the toffee is technically butterscotch because its in a liquid stage.– Doug T.Jul 25, 2010 at 3:43
Doug, google "stick date pudding". It's the more delicious dish on which sticky toffee pudding was originally based (and is in no way lacking in toffee, nor bad for people who don't like eating dates). You'll thank me.– MGOwenJul 29, 2010 at 6:47
4Actually, caramel is not made with "milk and/or cream, butter, and sometimes vanilla". While US recipes are fond of adding these things to caramel, they are not an essential part of the definition.– rumtscho ♦Jul 21, 2012 at 13:27
The names are used for different stages of caramelization of white or brown sugar:
Butterscotch = caramelized brown sugar 239°F-257°F (115°C - 125°C)
Toffee = brown sugar caramelized to hard crack stage 302°F-320°F (150°C - 160°C)
Caramel = white sugar heated to the point it browns, which starts at 338°F (170°C)
The -scotch in the butterscotch has nothing to do with alcoholic drink and the Wikipedia lists a few theories of why it has that name.
I totally disagree, because in my opinion it looks, smells, and taste the same. I think there is absolutely no difference between butterscotch and caramel.
Keep in mind, everyones palet and taste buds differ from one to another. If you have a mind to, look at the three different recipes...– user21881Dec 13, 2013 at 20:45
2Perhaps you've never had pure butterscotch. As a connoisseur of butterscotch (and less so of caramel and toffee), I can assure you there is a big taste difference. I think most great bakers would agree.– user24727May 3, 2014 at 21:52
@Hudson - I agree, there is definately a significant taste difference. I like butterscotch and caramel very much, so much that I even prefer either of them over chocolate, most of the time (I do like chocolate too, but not as much as butterscotch or caramel). Jun 10, 2014 at 6:47
We are actually talking here a distinction of semantics rather than taste. It is more a matter of where you come from and what has been called what in your experience. The brown or white sugar distinction of butterscotch/caramel is common but not universal. The butter or not distinction clearly relates to the name butterscotch which should always have butter in it, but to be confusing caramel may or may not. And when you have them as sauces or flavourings there are no holds barred and you may have considerable milk/cream/butter in either! Oct 8, 2014 at 3:06