Experiments

Caramel and the effect of pH

The basis of caramel is water and sugar, so I was surprised when I found a recipe that adds lemon juice to the caramel. I was even more surprised when I read in this book about caramelizing with baking powder. Both lemon juice and baking powder adjust the pH, but they do so in a completely opposite manner. Lemon juice makes the product more acidic and baking powder makes the product more basic.

PH has an enormous effect on all kinds of foods, you can read another experiment with pH here.

I’m not really sure how pH would affect caramelizing, so I’m going to try it:

Experimental setup:

Materials
  • Small pan
  • Sugar (100 grams per attempt)
  • Water (3 spoons per attempt)
  • 1 spoon of lemon juice (for an acidic pH)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder (for a basic pH)
  • whisk
  • baking sheet
Boiling sugar
Method

Mix the sugar and water in a pan, heat it up. Stir continuously until everything is dissolved. Keep a close eye on the boiling sugar and water solution, when the color changes into a nice caramel color immediately turn of the heat and cool.
Poor the caramel on a baking sheet to make candy.

For the experiment I repeated these steps with the addition of lemon juice already in the first step, and another time with baking powder already in the first step.

Results

Caramel is difficult to get exactly right, especially without a candy thermometer. This makes it difficult to compare the caramels with each other. For me, the caramel made with lemon juice was a bit burnt.

Both the neutral and acidic caramel were in a beautiful glassy state (perfectly see-through). I was able to taste the lemon juice in the acidic caramel, which gives the caramel an interesting touch. However, when I eat caramel I don’t really want it to be acidic and fresh.

The three different caramels

The basic caramel was more opaque, it could be that the baking powder was not completely dissolved to start with. Or that the baking powder dissolves in the beginning, but during caramelization all the water disappears so the baking powder becomes a white powder again. Either way, adding baking powder does not make your caramel prettier. To be honest, I could also taste the baking powder in the caramel, and that’s not a flavor I like, so baking powder also doesn’t make the caramel tastier.

In conclusion

The original recipe for caramel with only water and sugar remains the best, at least according to me. If you want to have an unexpected flavor you can experiment with lemon juice or another fruit juice. The caramel is nice in a dessert then.

I used my caramel to make a vegan caramel sauce:

Ingredients
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut oil
Method

Mix the sugar and water in a pan, heat it up.
Stir continuously until everything is dissolved.
Keep a close eye on the boiling sugar and water solution, when the color changes into a nice caramel color immediately add coconut milk and coconut oil and stir until everything is mixed.

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