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This heavenly, golden-brown syrup is a favorite to top cakes, ice cream, and freshly-sliced fruit. But what is caramel made of? We're sharing exactly which ingredients go into a traditional caramel sauce and a decadent coconut caramel recipe. 

Being a vegan can make food choices a little more complicated, especially if you're new to the diet and accustomed to eating an omnivore's diet. 

We think the best parts of a vegan diet are the desserts - some of them are even better than the original dairy-laden recipes. Why? Full-fat coconut milk and coconut oil have a beautiful consistency and taste, making vegan desserts decadently creamy. 

Do vegans have to remove caramel from their diets? 

In a sense, yes, the traditional caramel recipe is made almost exclusively of animal products, namely butter and heavy cream. 

Though traditional caramel is out, vegans can eat non-dairy caramel alternatives that don't compromise the original recipe's taste. Read more about caramel and its ingredients below and try our homemade caramel topping recipe that's 100% vegan-friendly.

What is Caramel?

At its core, caramel is pure sugar that's heated until it turns to liquid and darkens to a brown color - a chemical reaction to heat that's called caramelization. Other foods, like vegetables, that contain sugar can also become caramelized as they cook. 

Caramel usually refers to the caramel sauce you see on ice cream, cake, and other desserts. The sauce contains sugar, but usually, a few other ingredients to thicken the sauce and add more depth to the sweet, toasted flavor. 

What are the Ingredients in Caramel?

Here are the three main ingredients a traditional caramel sauce tends to contain.

Heavy Cream

This cow's by-product is usually added to caramel sauce to create a rich, creamy texture, which isn't suitable for a vegan diet.

Butter

Another cow's milk-based product, butter, thickens the caramel and adds depth to the flavor but cannot be used in vegan caramel.

White Sugar

White sugar is technically animal product-free, but many vegans choose not to consume it. That's because much of the white and brown sugar on the market is filtered and bleached using animal bone char. 

Salt

A pinch of salt balances flavors and counters any potential bitterness. 

Is Caramel Vegan?

The ingredients list tells us that classic caramel is one of the most non-vegan foods around.

The butter and heavy cream are both sourced from cows, and vegans omit dairy from their diet. 

White sugar is a hit or miss for vegans - some choose to consume it, while others prefer to avoid it. 

Salt is the only ingredient that is undeniably vegan in the traditional caramel recipe. So caramel sauce is a no-go for vegans. 

But, don't be too disappointed, as you can adapt the recipe and continue to enjoy vegan caramel sauce, free of any animal products.

One of the vegetarianism myths is that vegan food doesn't taste as good. Vegan caramel sauce is just as delicious, if not better than the original. It also has many extra nutrients and more fiber to reduce the blood sugar spikes that can happen after eating a classic caramel sauce.

Vegan Caramel Sauce Ingredients

Full-Fat Coconut Milk

In a plant-based caramel recipe, no cream is needed - instead, use a can of full-fat coconut milk to create that creaminess. It also contains healthy fats, called medium-chain triglycerides, which help control cholesterol and maintain heart health.

Tahini

Tahini, a sesame-seed paste, helps create density and adds a toasted quality to the flavor. Plus, it's full of antioxidants and contains some anti-inflammatory properties.

Dates and Coconut Sugar

Dates and coconut sugar provide the necessary sugar for caramelization to occur. Dates have a natural flavor similar to caramel, which the heat brings out further.

White sugar isn't very healthy for you, as it contains no fiber or minerals. Both dates and coconut sugar contain vitamins, minerals, and a decent amount of fiber, keeping blood sugar more stabilized. 

Arrowroot Starch

Arrowroot starch helps thicken the vegan caramel to get that perfect, gooey consistency. 

Is Caramel Color Vegan?

Caramel color is used as a food coloring in many products and is generally derived from plant-based sources, making it perfectly fine for vegans to consume. 

Vegan Caramel Recipe

This vegan caramel sauce without cream or milk will knock your socks off. It's simple to make, with only six ingredients required. 

Simply toss all of your ingredients into a high-powered blender, heat the blended mixture on the stovetop for a little less than 20 minutes, and you'll have a delicious vegan topping ready at your fingertips. 

Ingredients

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp tahini
  • 6 soft Medjool dates, pitted
  • 2 Tbsp arrowroot starch or cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Directions

  1. Place your can of full-fat coconut milk in a high-powered blender. Then add the tahini, arrowroot starch, dates, coconut sugar, and sea salt. Blend on the lowest speed setting, and increase slowly. Blend until creamy, approximately 1 min. 
  2. Transfer the caramel sauce to a small saucepan. Turn the heat to low and heat for 15-18 minutes, occasionally stirring, until it reaches your desired consistency. Remove the saucepan from heat.
  3. Transfer your dairy-free caramel sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate to cool. The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools and lasts up to one week in the fridge.
  4. This vegan caramel sauce recipe yields about 1 1/2 c. caramel sauce.

Final Verdict: Does Caramel Have Dairy?

Every main ingredient in a classic caramel recipe is animal-based, making it unsuitable for vegans. 

However, you can make an incredible vegan version of this delicious sauce using plant-based alternative ingredients instead. 

Swap out these ingredients to make a vegan caramel:

  • Full-fat coconut milk for heavy cream;
  • Tahini paste for butter;
  • Dates and coconut sugar for white sugar;
  • And add arrowroot starch to thicken. 

We hope you enjoy eating this vegan caramel and finding other alternatives for your favorite desserts!

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