Is Caramel Vegan? Here Is Everything You Need To Know

Are you wondering whether caramel is a product that vegans can consume, or whether it is unsafe for vegans to eat? This can be a complicated topic, so let’s find out!

Unfortunately, a lot of commercially available caramel products are not vegan, and you should be very cautious about consuming caramel unless you have checked the ingredients and verified that they are vegan-friendly. Many caramels contain milk and butter, making them unsuitable for vegans. 

There are quite a few things that you need to check when it comes to eating caramel, so we’re going to explore everything you need to know. At its heart, caramel is a vegan product, so don’t give up on ever eating it again!

Can Vegans Eat Caramel?

caramel

In its most basic form, caramel is just browned sugar. The sugar is heated to 340 degrees F to break it down, releasing the water molecules and making a sticky, rich, golden liquid that is known as caramel. This is immensely popular and is used in all sorts of desserts.

Caramel is basically vegan, as long as the sugar being used has not been whitened with bone char (which we will cover in more detail later). However, to improve the taste and texture of caramel products, many manufacturers use things like:

  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Heavy cream

These products immediately make the caramel non-vegan, so you need to watch out for them. If you see any of these in the list of ingredients, you cannot eat the caramel. You should also look out for less common additions, like milk proteins, which may occasionally appear.

Caramel is a product that you need to be cautious about, because it may or not be vegan, and it might not be obvious whether it is or isn’t. You should look for any labels that confirm whether it is vegan, and be wary of anything that doesn’t make this clear.

Is Sugar Always Vegan?

As you’ll have seen above, although caramel can be vegan in its most basic form, there are question marks even over the sugar, especially if you live in the United States. That might surprise you because most people think of sugar as a fundamentally vegan product that is made from plants.

However, sugar is not always vegan, and that’s because some commercial sugar is whitened using bone char. There is no bone char in the final product, but many vegans are uncomfortable with the idea of consuming a product that has been made using other animal products. You will still be indirectly contributing to the meat industry with this kind of sugar.

Not all vegans feel strongly about this, but for those that do, caramel could be problematic even without any additions of dairy. Not all sugar is made in this way, but it is often difficult to determine whether the sugar has been or not, and that might leave you unable to tell whether you can eat the caramel.

If in doubt about this, the best thing to do is to contact the manufacturers. They should be able to tell you whether the sugar is suitable for vegans, and whether any animal products were used during the creation process. Some sugars, like beet sugar, are always vegan, so look out for this too.

What Dairy Products Are Added To Caramel?

Although in its purest sense, caramel contains no dairy, some manufacturers choose to add dairy to their caramel. Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers are doing this currently, despite a growing demand for vegan products.

The manufacturers can add a variety of dairy products to caramel, but the most common are milk, butter, and caramel. These add protein and fat to the product.

If caramel has been used in a dessert, it may also have other dairy products added, depending on the dessert. For example, a caramel cheesecake could include cream cheese. Which products are added will depend on the product.

Why Are Dairy Products Added To Caramel?

Generally, dairy products are added to caramel in order to enhance the taste and texture. In its raw form, caramel can be bitter because it is burnt sugar. By adding butter, milk, and cream, the manufacturers give it a salty flavor and a creamier, silkier texture.

Manufacturers wanting to sell their caramel, therefore, tend to add dairy products to it in order to make it more appetizing, and to increase their sales. 

If you purchase caramel in a store, it is very likely to have had at least one of these three dairy products, and possibly more, added to it to make it taste great and give it an excellent mouthfeel. Be very wary and always make sure you are reading the labels to check for these additions.

How Can I Tell If Dairy Products Have Been Added To Caramel?

The best and surest way to tell if dairy products have been added to caramel is to check the product label or contact the manufacturer. This will give you a certain answer one way or the other. However, if you cannot check for some reason, you can sometimes guess by the appearance of the caramel.

Usually, adding dairy products to caramel changes its appearance. Caramel that has had no dairy products added to it is usually clear and glossy. It contains only water and sugar. The addition of dairy tends to make it look cloudy because the milk is not clear. It may also have a more matte appearance.

However, you should not generally rely on these things if you can avoid it. If you aren’t a strict vegan and you don’t have a chance to check a product (perhaps because you are eating at a party), you may choose to take the risk based on the caramel’s appearance. Most vegans should check, though, as this isn’t a guaranteed method for testing. 

Which Products Contain Caramel?

Because caramel is such a popular flavoring, lots of desserts and candies contain it. Foods that you are likely to see it in include:

  • Creme brulee
  • Caramel iced coffees
  • Salted caramel candies
  • Some ice creams
  • Creme caramel puddings
  • Flans
  • Cheesecakes
  • Caramel-dipped apples

Many of these products are not vegan for other reasons, but you should look out for caramel in them nonetheless. You should also keep an eye on things like sweetened breakfast cereals, which might have caramel added to them.

Is Caramel Flavoring Vegan?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know whether caramel flavoring is vegan or not without checking the specific manufacturer’s process. Artificial flavors often are vegan, but even then, they are sometimes tested on animals during the development phase.

This makes the flavoring unsuitable for some vegans, and you should be cautious about purchasing products with this kind of flavoring. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer for further information.

Is Caramel Color Vegan?

Given how complicated caramel is, you might groan when you see caramel color written on the ingredients list. It is frustrating not to be able to eat a product just because somebody wanted to add something that would make it look good, so that’s understandable. Fortunately, however, caramel coloring is often vegan! 

This is a pleasant surprise for many people trying to follow a plant-based diet. It is still a good idea to check where possible, but you can usually eat caramel coloring without any concern.

On the whole, caramel color is bittersweet and made using only plant-based ingredients. You can usually safely ignore it when it appears in ingredients lists.

Is Vegan Caramel Becoming More Readily Available?

Fortunately for the vegans out there, many more manufacturers are starting to create vegan caramel options. These can taste just as good as non-vegan versions because the manufacturers add ingredients like coconut milk to them. Coconut butter is another option that is suitable for vegans, and it gives the caramel a silky texture.

This means more and more vegans can eat caramel products, including things like crème brulees, and pralines. You should still be cautious and check the ingredients, however.

Can You Make Caramel Yourself?

If you want to make sure that your caramel is vegan, the best option is often to make it yourself at home. Fortunately, this is easy to do and you only need vegan sugar, plant-based milk, a bit of vanilla extract, and some plant-based butter to make this delicious treat.

You should add the ingredients to a pan and gently boil them until the sugar darkens and the mixture thickens into a gooey syrup-like substance that will just run when it is tipped. You can choose any plant milk or butter for this, so experiment with different options and see which one gives you the best taste and texture.

Conclusion

Caramel is a challenging product for vegans to enjoy safely. Although many manufacturers are starting to produce vegan caramel, most caramel contains butter, milk, or cream. You should be cautious about any products that contain caramel, and avoid them unless you are able to verify that the caramel is fully vegan.