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Dec 11, 2009 03:20 PM

Attempting to make a family recipe organic -- sub for organic dark corn syrup in caramels?

My family has a caramel recipe that is at least 3 generations old. My grandmother made these when my mother was young, and my mother made them every holiday season of my life until I was 19 or 20, when I took over the caramel-making duties.

This year, I'd like to use all organic ingredients, but I am so far having trouble locating an organic dark corn syrup --- without ordering online, anyway. (I am in Minneapolis, and have tried the Wedge Co-op, Seward Co-op, Eastside Co-op, Linden Hills Co-op, Kowalski's, Whole Foods, and Cooks of Crocus Hill. Linden Hills was my last call, and their grocer explained to me that all the co-ops in the area have the same distributer, and the distributer recently discontinued carrying organic dark corn syrup, so now none of the co-ops can carry it.)

I have found organic brown rice syrup, but am worried about 1.) potential off-flavors, and 2.) different/unknown sugar composition/content affecting the consistency/viscosity of the finished caramel. I know the function adding corn syrup is its invert sugar content, which keeps the sugar from crystallizing, and so is a large contributor to the final consistency of the caramel. I'm guessing the invert content of dark corn syrup vs brown rice syrup is not the same (guessing that brown rice syrup is less 'inverted' because it is less sweet?), but I'm not sure how to compensate for it. (I've heard you can add an acid, like lemon juice or citric acid, but I don't know how much to add, or again, if it would add an odd taste.) Has anyone tried brown rice syrup in a caramel recipe, or using an acid to increase inverted sugar content in caramels?

I realize that I could use a more 'heritage' recipe, of the type beginning with cream and sugar, but I don't really have the time to experiment before gift-giving, and this wouldn't be grandma's recipe anyway.

My friends and relatives are awaiting my caramels for Christmas -- and I'd love to be able to give them an all-organic version (and avoid using a product made from a GMO and pesticide/herbicide-applied crop.) Can anyone help?

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  1. I would use honey. I don't know if honey can be certified organic (can the keepers control the bees that well?), and it will contribute its distinctive flavor but it is an invert sugar. I think honey is a little sweeter than corn syrup, but I don't think that matters as much for caramels as it would for something like a pecan pie. As for affecting the consistency/viscosity, the temperature to which you cook your confection is going to have the greatest impact on that, more than the sugars you use.

    1 Reply
    1. re: babette feasts

      Thanks for the suggestion! Honey didn't occur to me, likely because I normally purchase a local, single-source, raw honey, which does crystallize.

      ...but regular commercial honey is filtered and heated to prevent it from crystallizing on the shelf . I'm guessing this heating increases the invert content enough to keep it liquid? In which case as long as I heat long enough, I should be okay. Maybe?

      Now I'm beginning to contemplate using a combination of brown rice syrup, honey, and a bit of molasses to add in more depth of flavor. (Dark corn syrup apparently contains some refiners' syrup.)

    2. I've used brown rice syrup in place of plain corn syrup for caramels before.

      It worked just fine, but what I found was that the caramels did have a darker flavor, mostly a malty one. (Brown rice syrup contains maltose plus complex carbs instead of glucose.)

      Honey, brown rice syrup, molasses & organic corn syrup all work pretty well, just a bit different.

      1. 1. The flavor of honey would change the recipe pretty dramatically. It may not be all that bad, but it will be different.

        2. Inverting sugar with an acid will inhibit crystallization, but it's not going to resemble dark corn syrup in either texture or level of sweetness. Out of all possible subs, this would probably require the most trial and error to get right and may not be worth the trouble.

        I think you're on the right track with brown rice syrup, although, from a flavor perspective, I would add some organic molasses (to taste).

        Organic agave syrup is fairly readily available, and it might be worth experimenting a bit with (possibly to bump the sweetness of the rice syrup a tad), but it won't be a solution on it's own.

        It also might be worth experimenting a bit with organic yacon syrup as well.

        Seeing the recipe might help. Are you browning the sugar (above 315 deg.) or are you just browning the milk proteins in the cream? Since dark corn syrup is involved it sounds a lot like the latter- which means you're dependent on the burnt sugar notes the dark syrup would be bringing. So, yes, definitely a little molasses.

        Your best bet would be to have a bottle of dark syrup next to bottles of rice syrup and molasses and combine them until the flavor profile is close.

        Chemically, brown rice syrup should inhibit crystallization the same way the corn syrup does. Again, if you have the two side by side, I'd compare the viscosity. If the viscosity is similar, you should be fine.

        Btw, have you checked your local resources for organic light corn syrup? Light corn syrup plus molasses will be the closest you can get to dark corn syrup.