carmelization, topping, glace, caramel

Caramelization can be used as a filling, topping, or as a glaze.


What is Caramelization?

Caramelization is the oxidation of sugar yielding intense flavors and non-enzymatic browning. Caramelization is primarily utilized in the food, as well as baking industry, for the characteristic browning colorization and nutty, clarified resulting flavors.


Mechanically, the chemical reaction involves the break down of sugar and removal of water as steam via applied heat, releasing volatile chemical compounds producing browning and flavor attributes.

Temperatures at which caramelization occurs depends on the type of sugar at hand. Sucrose, galactose, and glucose caramelize at 160˚C (320 ℉), Maltose at 180˚C (356 ℉), and fructose caramelizes around 110˚C (230 ℉). Fructose yields the highest reacting sugar, and is why bakery items formulated with honey or high fructose syrup create products with greater browning.

The reaction rates can be slowed down or increased via alteration of the medium’s pH range. Around a pH of 7 or neutral, the reaction rate is the slowest. Below 7 or within an acidic pH range the reaction rate of caramelization is rapidly increased.


Frequently, caramelization is confused with the Maillard reaction or Maillard browning. Though both reactions are non-enzymatic, the Maillard reaction is quite different because the reaction taking place is actually a pyrolysis or thermochemical decomposition reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars not the oxidation of sugar. Sucrose caramelization can be broken down into a brief 3-step process.

  1. Sucrose broke down into fructose and glucose via applied heat
  2. Oligomerization of Fructose and Glucose, where color and texture is developed forming a difructose dianhydride three-ringed compound
  3. One of 3 molecules is formed creating distinct characteristics. Caramelan is the first possible formed molecule if the difructose dianhydride loses 12 water molecules. The second possible form is caramelen, yielding the aggregation of miniscule brown particles as small as 950 nanometers. And lastly, the third possible form is caramelin resulting from elimination of 27 water molecules yielding aggregating brown particles roughly 4300 nanometers in size.

Color deepens with each reaction, increasing in intensity from caramelan to caramelen and finally to caramelin. The three-ring form of these molecules combined with the appearance of free radicals is the reason behind the well-known stickiness of caramel.

Caramelization is not only utilized in baked products to produce color and flavor, many bakers utilize caramelization to use, of course, caramel in baking applications. Caramel can be used as a filling, topping, or as a glaze. Flan and custard cake varieties commonly have a thin glaze of caramel drizzled topically. Hardened caramel can also be used in decorating applications because of the molding properties before complete hardening.