For me, the summary of stovetop alchemy is  do caramel native table sugar. You start with sleek sucrose, pure crystalline sweetness, placed it in a pan by itself, and turn on the heat. Once the street rises above 320°F/160°C, the solid crystals begin to melt together right into a colorless syrup. Then another 10 or 20 degrees over that, the syrup begins to turn brown, emits a rich, mouth-watering aroma, and also adds tart and savory and bitter to its initial sweetness.

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That's the magic of food preparation front and center: native one odorless, colorless, just sweet molecule, heat creates hundreds of different molecules, some aromatic and also some tasty and also some colored.

How does heat turn sugar right into caramel? heat is a type of energy that renders atoms and also molecules relocate faster. In room-temperature table sugar, the sucrose molecules  are jittery however standing in place, organized still by the pressures of attraction to their neighbors. As the sugar heats up in the pan, its molecule get more and more jittery, come the allude that their jitters conquer the attractive forces and also they can jump native one collection of next-door neighbors to another. The hard crystals thus come to be a free-flowing liquid. Then, as the temperature the the street molecules proceeds to rise, the pressure of their jittering and also  jumping becomes stronger than the forces holding their own atoms together. The molecules break apart right into fragments, and also the fragments slam right into each various other hard sufficient to kind new molecules.

That's what I've believed for plenty of years, in addition to most cooks and confectioners and also carbohydrate chemists: warmth melts sugar, and then begins to break it apart and create the delicious mixture we speak to caramel.

And we've all been wrong.

It turns out that, strictly speaking, street doesn't actually melt.  And it deserve to caramelize if it's tho solid. So showed chemist Shelly Schmidt and also her colleagues at the university of Illinois in studies released last year.

It's dismaying to think that so many might be therefore wrong for so long around such a basic ingredient and process! but it's additionally a rare opportunity to rethink the possibilities of the basic. Here's a plateful the possibilities; scroll under for more.


Professor Schmidt's group made their exploration when lock tried to nail under the precise melting allude of sucrose. The numbers reported in the technical literature vary widely, and also it wasn't clean why.

The melting point of a problem is the temperature in ~ which it turns from a solid into a liquid while maintaining its chemical identity. Once solid ice turns right into liquid water, because that example, the molecules of H2O relocate fast enough to to escape the attractive pressures of your neighbors, yet they're tho H2O. And also it doesn't matter how fast the substance heats up: the melting allude is the same. Ice cream melts at 32°F/0°C. Always.

After careful analysis, Professor Schmidt found that whenever sugar it s okay hot enough to rotate from a solid right into a liquid, several of its molecule are additionally breaking apart. Therefore sucrose doesn't have actually a true melt point. Instead it has actually a selection of temperatures in i beg your pardon its molecules are energetic enough to shake loosened from your neighbors, and a variety in i beg your pardon the molecule jitter us apart and kind new ones. And also these two ranges overlap. Anytime sugar gets hot sufficient to liquefy, it's likewise breaking under and transforming into caramel. However it beginning to break down even before it starts to liquefy. And the an ext that sugar breaks down while it's still solid, the reduced the temperature at which it will certainly liquefy.

When we make caramel standing at the stove, we use high warmth to liquefy and also then brown the sugar in a few minutes, and the liquefying temperature have the right to be upwards of 380°F/190°C. But Professor Schmidt's group discovered that once they ramped up the warm slowly, end the food of one hour, for this reason that far-ranging chemical break down takes place prior to the hard structure provides way, the street liquefied in ~ 290°F/145°C. 

I make the caramelized sugars in these photos by putting crystals and also cubes in mine gas cooktop at approximately 250°F/125°C, shielding them v foil over and below to stop temperature extremes native the cycling heater element, and leaving them there overnight and also longer. In the large sugar crystals, i beg your pardon I got in a Chinese market, it's clean that malfunction and caramelization is fastest in the center. That may be due to the fact that the facility is whereby impurities get focused as the crystals space made, and the impurities climate kickstart the failure process. 


Caramel makers have long known that, together is true in most kinds of cooking, the crucial to caramelization is the combination of food preparation temperature and also cooking time. But the the temperature have frequently been really high, the times measured in minutes. Currently we know that you have the right to caramelize short and really slow and also get something different. Sugar failure even occurs at ambient storage temperatures, though it bring away months for the discoloration and flavor adjust to become noticeable. Because that a manufacturer this is undesirable deterioration. Yet for a chef in search of interesting ingredients, it could be desirable aging.

In a follow-up to her initial clinical reports, Professor Schmidt wrote in Manufacturing Confectioner that

from a practical suggest of view, caramelization deserve to be believed of together browning of sucrose by using heat because that a length of time. Therefore it might be possible to far better control the caramelization reaction by identifying the time-temperature conditions that optimize the manufacturing of preferable caramel seasonings compounds, while minimizing undesirable ones. Confectionery manufacturers and sugar artisans, armed with this new scientific knowledge, may have the ability to push your craft in unforeseeable directions.

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For example: aged sugar, roasted sugar, caramel-center crystals. Let the pushing begin!



Schmidt, S.J. Trying out the sucrose-water state diagram. Manufacturing Confectioner, January 2012, 79-89.

Lee, J. W. Et al. Investigation of the heating price dependency linked with the ns of crystalline structure in sucrose, glucose, and fructose utilizing a thermal evaluation approach (Part I). J Agric. Food Chemistry 2011, 59: 684-701.

Lee, J. W. Et al. Investigation of heat decomposition together the kinetic procedure that causes the loss of crystalline framework in sucrose using a chemical analysis approach (Part II). J. Agric. Food Chemistry 2011, 59: 702-12.