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Homemade Caramels keep crystalizing

dickens Oct 3, 2010 09:52 AM

I have been making homemade caramels for a few years as gifts for family and friends. The caramels are delicious and always receive rave reviews. The ingredients are brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk, butter, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla. The caramels are great for 3-4 days but after that, they start to crystallize and loose the smooth creamy texture. They become very crystaliized after about 7 days.

Any suggestions? What can I do to improve the "shelf life" of these caramels? I've seen that some commercial ones include soy lecithin. Do you think I need an emulsifier?

I also make an anise caramel recipe (using liquid anise flavor) and those ones crystallize much quicker. I have read some online about anise increasing crysllaization, but it also happens with the non-anise flavors.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

  1. Zeldog Oct 3, 2010 05:57 PM

    I've made caramel exactly twice and it all got eaten in a day or two, so I'm no expert, but try increasing the amount of corn syrup and decreasing the sugar by an equal amount (volume). The fructose in the corn syrup acts as an impurity and prevents the sucrose from forming crystals.

    You may need to experiment a bit. I don't know what your recipe is (and it probably wouldn't make any difference if I did), but try increasing the corn syrup by 50%. If you end up with a caramel sauce instead of caramels, that's too much.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Zeldog
      paulj Oct 6, 2010 09:15 AM

      Plain corn syrup is mostly glucose. Glucose does inhibit crystallization.

    2. bushwickgirl Oct 4, 2010 12:14 PM

      This can be an common problem with caramels and has been discussed here before. It's a matter of not thoroughly dissolving the sugar crystals, however that may come about, and they "re-form" after a few days. Even one undissolved sugar crystal "seed" can cause a chain reaction to occur, and are influenced by density of the product, and temperature, other ingredients added into the formula, and cooling technique. There may be other issues with your caramels as well; read through this link for some possible answers:


      I think maybe one problem you could have is in using brown sugar and not cooking to to a high temp to dissolve completely, as you would white sugar, you're leaving a few crystals behind to wreck havoc with your caramels. In addition, are you stirring your caramel while it cooks? Agitation can cause formation of crystal seeds, which will eventually cause the sugary graininess. With caramel, infrequent stirring is ok, continuous is not.

      How's the humidity in your area? Sugar molecules aer notoriously hygroscopic (water attracting) and higher humidity will cause crystallization to occur. Making caramel is a process of removing moisture, and when it comes back into the mix, though humidity, that can cause graininess to occur.

      Lecithin, as an emusifier, would improve the texture of your caramel, and it inhibits fat separation in chocolate candies, but I don't know if it prevents crystals from reforming. Increasing the amount of corn syrup in your formula would certainly help inhibit cyrstallization, due to it's ability to tangle the glucose chains to impede the motion of the sugar and water molecules, and make it more difficult for the sucrose to find a crystal to attach itself to, all very geeky stuff, but that's what prevents reformation. Additions of small amounts of cream of tartar, an acid, prevent crystallization also. Using a mix of sugars, sucrose, fructose, glucose for caramel is always better than straight sucrose or fructose.

      Here's another link discussing other issues, humidity, and the use of corn syrup and other additives to make caramels more shelf stable:


      As for the use of anise flavor, you're using extract, liquor or something else? I have no experience with that in caramel and can't comment.

      Hopefully you can find an answer to your problem. I wish you success.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bushwickgirl
        dickens Oct 6, 2010 08:28 AM

        Thank you very much! I've done a lot of exploring around those threads and am now off to try again. I appreciate your help!

      2. o
        onecaketwocake Oct 6, 2010 08:46 AM

        one other thing, I usually add a little lemon juice to my caramel to help prevent crystallization. I'm not sure if that helps after a few days but maybe worth a try.

        1 Reply
        1. re: onecaketwocake
          bushwickgirl Oct 11, 2010 10:42 PM

          Yes, an acid, such as lemon juice or cream of tartar help to curb cyrstallization.

        2. dave_c Oct 6, 2010 09:28 AM

          Hmmm.... I'm thinking you have too much sugar where you create a supersaturated solution (like honey) where any changes will cause the sugars to crystallize.

          How do you store the caramels?

          My favorite caramel recipe calls for sugar, cream, butter, golden syrup and vanilla. Never had a problem with crystalization.

          2 Replies
          1. re: dave_c
            dickens Oct 6, 2010 01:51 PM

            Once the caramels have cooled at room temperature, I wrap them individually in cellophane and they are stored that way until eaten. I live in a desert, so humidity isn't much of a problem here. Normally they would all be eaten in the time frame they stay good, but I mail them across the county during the holidays to my family and friends, and I want them to be in prime shape when they arrive.

            1. re: dickens
              shellyscorner Sep 23, 2011 06:20 PM

              Hi, I have a confession to make...I have NEVER made any caramels! So....Now that I have all the skeletons out of my closet, you and I can both ask what in the world do I think I can offer to this conversation!?!? Not much I'm afraid...However, I was searching for something else when I not only ran across this discussion but before I found this I found a blog:

              Ten Tips For Making Caramel

              the url is: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/01/...

              One of the things that he talks about (other than making caramels for 25 years) is about how using brown sugar can cause crystallization. Though I do think that he means more immediately than after the fact. He does offer a way of contacting him, so as much as anything, I guess I was thinking that if his blog didn't answer your questions that you could contact him and he would surely be able to answer your question. I know that this is almost a year after you asked your initial question, ... but...I just found you! Oh well, hope SOMEONE finds this helpful! I can hope!

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