Adding caramel extract to your desserts, whether it be filling, frosting, or delicious decoration, is a great way to achieve that unique, rich, smokey aroma.
However, what happens if you’re all out of caramel extract in the middle of the dessert-making process, and you need a quick replacement?
There’s no need to worry about replacing caramel extract, as we’ve discovered the best alternatives to replace caramel extract in all your favorite recipes.
The best substitutes for caramel extract
Caramel extract is a very concentrated source of caramel flavor and aroma, and just like with any other extract, it is important to remember that a little bit goes a long way.
With just a few drops of caramel extract, you can add a strong dose of sweetness to your dessert, as well as improve its overall flavor profile and aroma.
Many desserts, including ice cream, pudding, and muffins call for that burnt sugar flavor, often with a subtle hint of vanilla.
Caramel extract is extremely versatile, as it can be easily mixed into any dough or filling.
The recognizable sweetness of caramel comes from its main ingredient – sugar. The essential process of getting caramel is heating up sugar to the point of 340°F.
It is in this process that the caramel develops that characteristic dark brown, golden color, as well as the irresistible toasty, nutty, almost burnt aroma.
Nowadays, there are many variations of the original recipe, as many people like to add flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, or salt to further enhance these complex flavors.
Caramel extract can also come in different combinations of flavors, mostly mixed with vanilla extract, to emphasize its sweetness and aroma.
While caramel can be quite difficult to work with, as it is very dense and sticky, caramel extract allows you to add the caramel flavor and aroma into any pastry or dessert with just a few drops.
This kind of formula also allows you to control the dose. Caramel extract isn’t as intense and sweet as clear caramel or caramel sauce, so you can easily adjust the level of sweetness.
This sweet extract is a great choice for sweet pastries such as cinnamon rolls, cookies such as chocolate chips, but also to add this unique flavor to beverages like coffee.
In case you’re looking for the best way to replace caramel extract in your recipes, here are some of the best solutions that can still provide amazing results.
1. Caramel syrup
The number one substitute for caramel extract is caramel syrup, as it provides almost the same level of convenience and versatility as caramel extract.
While they will provide identical flavor and aroma, it is important to note some differences between these two options.
The Syrup is much thicker than caramel extract, so you definitely want to adjust the amount. The same goes with intensity and sweetness, but once again, it’s all about the dose you use, as a little bit goes a long way.
Caramel syrup is also a much better choice for enhancing the flavor of your beverages, as it is much thicker and it can also contribute to the texture.
It is also an amazing substitute for caramel extract if you want to use it to garnish your desserts and beverages, whereas caramel extract is only an addition to filling or frosting.
2. Caramel liqueur
If you don’t mind the alcohol base of the caramel extract, you will certainly enjoy using caramel liqueur as a caramel extract substitute.
The process of making caramel extract is almost identical to caramel liqueur production, as both of these products are made when pure caramel is added to the alcohol base.
Given all the similarities between the two, it is safe to say that you can easily replace caramel extract with caramel liqueur in a 1:1 ratio in all your recipes.
However, keep in mind that caramel liqueur isn’t as widely available as caramel extract, and you may not be able to find it in all stores.
3. Pure caramel
If you don’t own any of the mentioned caramel products, you can always go back to the basics and use store-bought pure caramel – or simply make it yourself!
Keep in mind that the caramel you make at home won’t keep its liquid consistency, but you can easily warm it up in a pan or microwave and use it up in 10-14 days.
For homemade caramel, you will need granulated sugar, water, or whipping cream (depending on the flavor profile you’re going for), and butter if you’d like to enhance the richness of the flavor and create a smoother structure.
Follow these steps:
- Add the sugar into a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Once the sugar has completely melted and developed a golden hue, decrease the heat.
- Carefully add the desired amount of butter to the mixture, and continue stirring to get a coherent mixture.
- Finally, add your liquid of choice (water or whipping cream).
- At this point, you may also add other ingredients of choice, such as kosher salt (for salted caramel), vanilla, or rum extract.
- Continue stirring until the mixture starts bubbling up.
After a couple of minutes, your homemade caramel is done.
4. Caramel candy
Depending on the dessert you’re making, caramel candy may come in handy as a caramel extract substitute.
It can be melted into any kind of frosting and filling, or simply used as a garnish on top of the dessert.
You can even crumble it up to add some texture and flavor to your desserts. It is a convenient alternative to caramel extract, and it is widely available.
Caramel candy comes in countless variations, so you can experiment with different flavors and aromas to achieve the desired effect.
5. Caramel flavoring
Caramel flavoring is usually even more concentrated than the pure caramel extract, and it is packed with that toasty, burnt caramel flavor and aroma.
Being that it is highly concentrated, you definitely want to start with a small amount, and add more if needed.
It is advised to start with a single drop of the flavoring, especially if you don’t want this flavor to be too overwhelming.
Caramel flavoring is mostly used in the food industry as a fast yet effective way of developing the sweetness and toastiness of caramel.
When shopping for caramel flavoring, make sure you’re choosing high-quality brands with no added sweeteners, colors, or preservatives.
6. Caramel sauce
Caramel sauce is quite similar to caramel syrup – the only difference being in the consistency. You’ll notice that caramel sauce is often a bit thicker than syrup.
However, if the consistency of the sauce makes it hard to work with, you can always water it down until you get the desired texture.
This step will also tone down the sweetness of the sauce, which is a perfect trick if you don’t want the caramel flavors to be too dominant in your dessert.
Making caramel sauce at home requires pretty much the same ingredients you’d use for a batch of homemade pure caramel.
In this case, since you’re looking for a thinner texture, you’d just add a bit more water to the mixture until you’ve achieved the consistency you’re going for.
As always, you can experiment with flavors and aromas and make your own variations of caramel by adding kosher salt, vanilla extract, or any flavoring you like to combine with caramel.
If you were to choose one candy that resembles caramel the most, we’re pretty sure you’d go with fudge. It’s no surprise since the process of making fudge is quite similar to caramel production.
The main ingredient in fudge is sugar that is dissolved in water and butter. However, the main difference between caramel and fudge is that milk is an irreplaceable fudge ingredient.
As we’ve mentioned in the homemade pure caramel recipe, an alternative to water is whipped cream, but the original recipe does not require it.
Fudge has a similar predominantly sweet taste with a hint of toastiness and caramelized sugar, which is precisely why it can be used as a caramel extract substitute in your recipe.
8. Butterscotch candy
Speaking of candy that can serve as a caramel replacement, butterscotch candy has certainly earned its place on this list.
When it comes to using candy in place of caramel extract, there is the obvious challenge of adjusting the amount, as we’re talking about two completely different textures.
However, the flavor profiles are quite similar, as butterscotch candy is a mixture of brown sugar and butter, so we’d say that butterscotch can have a richer, milky flavor.
Many candy brands and recipes combine butterscotch and caramel due to the similarity in both flavor and aroma.
9. Vanilla extract
This extract may not be the spot-on caramel extract substitute you’re looking for, but it is a pretty good solution if you’re looking for a fruity dose of sweetness.
Vanilla is generally an ingredient that is often combined with caramel, and you’ll even find caramel extracts with a hint of vanilla since they’re so complementary.
If you want to add a subtle note of sweetness to your dessert, with an intense, milky aroma of vanilla, vanilla extract is a perfect choice.
Keep in mind that extracts are very concentrated and you always want to start with a single drop.
10. Almond extract
If you’re far more interested in achieving that toasty, nutty flavor, and not so much concerned with the sweetness, the almond extract may be the answer.
Since the almond extract is usually made from roasted almonds, it offers a very intense burnt aroma and a subtle dose of sweetness.
After all, you can always add more sugar or honey to your dessert to get the desired level of sweetness.
11. Golden syrup
Golden syrup is a popular sweetener that resembles honey in both consistency and color. However, it is essentially a mixture of sugar, water, and citric acid.
This syrup is an excellent choice if you want to enhance the sweetness of your dessert, with a subtle dose of acidity that will add a distinctive fruity note.
12. Butter extract
Butter extract is a caramel extract alternative that can not only enhance the flavor and aroma of your desserts but also contribute to the texture.
This creamy extract is a common ingredient in baking since it provides the softest texture while adding a hint of vanilla to your baked goodies and other desserts.
How to choose a caramel extract substitute
Finding the adequate caramel extract substitute for your recipe shouldn’t be too hard, as there are many mention-worthy options to consider.
In case you’re not looking to experiment with other ingredients and you want to stick with caramel-based products, we suggest going with caramel syrup, caramel liqueur, pure caramel, caramel candy, caramel flavoring, or caramel sauce.
The biggest advantage of the mentioned alternatives is that you can make most of them at home, using simple ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
Fudge and butterscotch candy can replace caramel extract in pretty much any dessert, as they share a similar sugary base.
Vanilla extract, almond extract, and butter extract are not based on sugar, but they can still provide the desired sweetness and unique, dominant aroma.