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Mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) being caramelized

Caramelization is the browning of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting sweet nutty flavor and brown colour. The brown colours are produced by three groups of polymers: caramelans (C24H36O18), caramelens (C36H50O25), and caramelins (C125H188O80). As the process occurs, volatile chemicals such as diacetyl are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor.[1]

Like the Maillard reaction, caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning. However, unlike the Maillard reaction, caramelization is pyrolytic, as opposed to being a reaction with amino acids.

When caramelization involves the disaccharide sucrose, it is broken down into the monosaccharides fructose and glucose.


Caramelization is a complex, poorly understood process that produces hundreds of chemical products, and includes the following types of reaction:

Effects on caramelization[edit]

The process is temperature-dependent. Specific sugars each have their own point at which the reactions begin to proceed readily. Impurities in the sugar, such as the molasses remaining in brown sugar, greatly speed the reactions.

Caramelization temperatures[2]
Sugar Temperature
Fructose 110 °C, 230 °F
Galactose 160 °C, 320 °F
Glucose 160 °C, 320 °F
Sucrose 160 °C, 320 °F
Maltose 180 °C, 356 °F

The caramelization reactions are also sensitive to the chemical environment.[3] By controlling the level of acidity (pH), the reaction rate (or the temperature at which the reaction occurs readily) can be altered; the rate of caramelization is generally lowest at near-neutral acidity (pH around 7), and accelerated under both acidic (especially pH below 3) and basic (especially pH above 9) conditions.[4]

Uses in food[edit]

Caramelization is used to produce several foods, including:

Note that the preparation of many "caramelized" foods also involves the Maillard reaction; particularly recipes involving protein- and/or amino acid-rich ingredients.

See also[edit]

Media related to Caramelization at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ Miller, Dennis (1998). Food Chemistry: A Laboratory Manual. Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-0471175438.
  2. ^ Food-Info on caramelization
  3. ^ McGee, Harold. "Caramelization: new science, new possibilities". Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  4. ^ Villamiel, M.; del Castillo, M. D.; Corzo, N. (2006). "4. Browning Reactions". In Hui, Y. H.; Nip, W-.K.; Nollet. L. M. L.; Paliyath, G.; Simpson, B. K. (eds.). Food biochemistry and food processing. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 83–85. ISBN 978-0-8138-0378-4.
  5. ^ Scocca, Tom. Layers of Deceit: Why do recipe writers lie and lie and lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions?, May 2, 2012.
  6. ^ Child, Julia. "French Onion Soup". Archived from the original on 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  7. ^ "Caramelizing Pears | Stemilt". Stemilt. 2016-10-10. Retrieved 2016-10-27.

External links[edit]