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National Caramel Day

Caramel, a light brown candy made from white sugar and a dairy product like milk, butter, or cream (or water), and often with flavorings like vanilla, is enjoyed and celebrated today on National Caramel Day. To make caramel, sugar is stirred and heated to a high temperature and begins to melt and darken. As it browns, its aroma and flavor change, with nutty, buttery, malty, sour, and sweet elements forming. The heat causes the sucrose to break into fructose and glucose, and then to break down further into other molecules. At about 320°F, it begins to turn into a molten liquid, and milk, cream, or butter is stirred in. The dairy helps make the mixture soft and creamy and gives it a chewier texture and rich flavor as it cools. Caramel sauces or candies can then be made from it.

While sugar, butter, cream, and milk are the ingredients used in gourmet candy shops, inferior ingredients are used to make mass-produced caramel candies that are found in supermarkets. Preservatives, corn syrup, artificial flavorings, and artificial colorings are usually used to make mass-produced caramels. Caramel is similar to butterscotch and toffee. Butterscotch is made in a similar fashion but uses brown sugar and butter; butterscotch that continues to be cooked turns into toffee.

Caramel may be pronounced "care-a-muhl," "car-muhl," or "care-a-melle." The name "caramel" comes from the Spanish word caramelo and was first recorded in the English language in 1725. The name likely dates even further back, to the Latin word calamellus which means "sugar cane," which itself comes from the Greek word calamus, meaning "cane," or from the Latin word cannamella, which combines canna, which means "cane," and mella, which means "honey." The Arabic phrase kora-moħalláh, which means "ball of sweet," has also been cited as a source for the name caramel.

One theory as to how caramel came to be is that Arabs discovered it around 1000 CE. This crunchy variety was made by crystallizing sugar in boiling water. It was called kurat al milh, which means "sweet ball of salt." The first caramels to be found in what would become the United States appeared around 1650 when settlers began cooking water and sugar together. Caramel became a favorite treat because it was affordable, easy to make at home, and had a long shelf life. It might not have been until the nineteenth century that milk and fat began being added, which produced chewy caramel candy. In 1886, Milton Hershey started the Lancaster Caramel Company, which shipped caramels across the United States and Europe. The company established Hershey in the confectionery industry and led to the founding of the Hershey Company, which started making sweet chocolate to coat caramels before it started producing the Hershey's milk chocolate bar.

Caramel candies, often known as caramels, are chewy and soft. They can be salted (salted caramels) or infused with spices, cinnamon being common. Caramel can be eaten plain, but it pairs well with foods such as apples and nuts. Caramel has great versatility and can be used to make or to accompany many desserts, like pralines, crème brûlée, crème caramel, nougats, brittles, cake, tarts, ice cream, chocolate covered caramels, and various other chocolate caramels and candies. Caramel sauce is used in coffee drinks, as ice cream topping, and on other desserts. Caramel apples and caramel popcorn are a few other foods that are made with caramel.

National Caramel Day celebrates caramel and the many forms and uses of it. Sometimes companies have embraced and promoted the day, too. In 2012, Kellogg's launched their Crunchy Nut Caramel Nut cereal in honor of the holiday. In 2018, Werther's Original candy teamed up with Hasbro to create a life-size version of Candyland on the Santa Monica Pier, which included treats and prizes and an online version of the game.

How to Observe National Caramel Day

Enjoy some caramel! Buy some caramels at the store to eat plain, enjoy caramel sauce on coffee drinks or ice cream, or pick up or make one or more of the following foods that include caramel:

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