Caramel Sauce vs. Caramel Syrup: Know the Differences

Many people believe that sauce and syrup made out of caramel are the same thing. Not true!

The difference between caramel sauce and caramel syrup centers on the basics. For one thing, caramel sauce is an actual sauce with a ganache-like consistency and always tastes like caramel, while caramel syrup sometimes tastes a little bitter, and its overall texture, sweetness, and richness depend on how much sugar you put in it.

Caramel Sauce vs. Caramel Syrup

Let’s take a look at both the subtle and not-so-subtle differences and similarities between these two types of food.

Consistency

Cold coffee beverage with whipped cream and caramel syrup prepared after barista learned differences between caramel sauce vs. caramel syrup
Caramel syrup is a popular topping on specialty coffee drinks.

The consistency and texture of syrup and sauce have a lot of similarities. Both are relatively thick, but the sauce tends to be a bit thicker. Why? Because caramel syrup is made to drizzle over whipped cream (think Starbucks) or even poured directly in your coffee. It is difficult to drizzle caramel sauce because it is so thick. You can, however, use it in many desserts because of its ganache-like thickness and creamy texture.

One of the reasons for the differences in consistency is the fact that in addition to the basic ingredients like sugar and water, caramel sauce requires a fatty food to be added, such as butter, heavy cream, or milk, depending on the recipe. This ingredient is not required in the syrup.

Taste

If you put caramel sauce and caramel syrup side by side and taste them both, you’ll probably consider the syrup to be sweeter. The syrup might also be a little bitter, depending on the type of sugar you’re using.

The sauce, on the other hand, is thick and creamy and rich, but it doesn’t always have as sweet of a taste as caramel syrup does. Both are sweet, but if you caramelize the sugar too much when you’re making the syrup, it will have a slightly bitter taste.

Ingredients

Caramel syrup doesn’t require the addition of a fatty food such as heavy cream or milk. Its basic ingredients can vary depending on the recipe, but it is usually made from water, raw or granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and kosher salt.

Caramel sauce, on the other hand, usually includes things such as brown sugar, vanilla extract, and fats that can include milk, butter, and/or heavy cream. The recipe for the sauce always includes a few extra ingredients found in the fat products that are used, which are not used when making the syrup.

Uses

Slice of cake with caramel sauce instead of caramel syrup
Caramel sauce can make an ordinary dessert look and taste more interesting.

Caramel sauce is thick and used mostly as a topping, such as for ice cream. While you can put this type of sauce on top of a hot drink, it normally doesn’t go in the drink because it is too thick to dissolve. Caramel sauce is used a lot of the time for decorative purposes. On the other hand, caramel syrup has multiple uses and can be stirred into both warm and cold drinks to improve their taste.

How To Make Caramel Sauce

To make caramel sauce:

  1. Combine 1 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and 1/4 cup of milk in a saucepan.
  2. Place it on the stove and set the stove to medium-high heat.
  3. Stir the mixture constantly until it becomes very thick, which usually takes about 1–2 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Please note that in this recipe, the vanilla extract is optional, but it does add some extra sweetness!

How to Make Caramel Syrup

Caramel syrup prepared after chef learned differences between caramel sauce vs caramel syrup

To make caramel syrup:

  1. Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and place it on a stove set at medium heat.
  2. Stir constantly as the mixture cooks until all of the sugar is completely dissolved. This usually takes 8–10 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cover the pan with a lid, then let the mixture boil for 3 minutes and no longer.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in 1/4 cup of water, stirring the entire time.
  5. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of kosher salt, then let the mixture sit until it is cool.

Once it’s cooled off, you can store it in a container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Caramel sauce and caramel syrup are alike in some ways but different in many others. Keep in mind that while they both have a caramel taste, the sauce is a bit thicker and the syrup is made without any fat-based ingredient such as butter or cream. Both are delicious, of course, and both are quite easy to make.

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