A Flavourful Marriage We All Love
There is no doubt that salted caramel is, more than ever, EVERYWHERE. The list of sweet-salty offerings seems limitless: sea-salted caramels, salted caramel roasted almonds, salted caramel popcorn, salted caramel cupcakes, salted caramel donuts, salted caramel coffee drinks, salted caramel martinis, salted caramel pumpkin pie … and even salted caramel-scented candles! Declared a hot flavour back in 2008 by numerous food channels and trend reports, the essence of salted caramel continues to seduce our senses. So, what makes this gourmet artisanal ingredient so intriguing?
Caramel versus salted caramel
Caramel candies are made by boiling sugar until it turns a light brown colour, then mixing in cream, butter, and vanilla. Once the mix cools down, it becomes flexible and chewy. Salted caramel is made by sprinkling fleur de sel, or any other sea salt on top of the concoction. As the popularity of gourmet sea salts started to increase, its inclusion in caramel treats began to rise as well. The enormous appeal of this sweet and salty combination is simple, seeing as blending two flavours doubles the taste sensation. Moreover, people generally like sweet because it brings pleasure and comfort, while salt is enjoyable (at the right ratio) due to its flavour-enhancing abilities. Furthermore, the mineral is essential to the healthy function of our bodies. Keep in mind, while too much salt can taste terrible, a subtle sprinkle over a sweet base will stimulate the taste buds and create a pleasurable experience.
How caramel started to grow a taste for salt
Who initially had the idea of adding salt to caramel? According to Debra Ronca, author of the article “Who Invented Caramel?,” it all started in France with an innovative chocolatier. In the 1960s Henri Le Roux attended candy school in Switzerland, later returning to France to open a store in Brittany – a region known for its salted butter. In an attempt to offer something different while using the region’s key ingredient, he came up with a salted butter caramel with crushed nuts. For this culinary creation, Le Roux was awarded Best Sweet in France by the Salon international de la confiserie in Paris in 1980.
Salted caramel was then popularized by French chef Pierre Hermé in the 1990s when he invented a salted caramel macaron. Canadian chefs quickly adopted the concept and began combining sea salt with a variety of sweets, including caramel and chocolate. Nonetheless, 2008 was the year salted caramel catapulted into mainstream culture, going from an elite culinary obsession to the North American mass market. During this time, Häagen-Dazs introduced salted caramel ice cream and shortly after Starbucks began selling salted caramel hot chocolate. Today, retail giants such as Walmart carry products including sea salt caramel truffle ice cream, salted caramel nut protein bars, salted caramel sweet and salty pretzel pieces, salted caramel biscotti, salted caramel brownie brittle, and much more.
Salted caramel all the time, everywhere
The growing popularity of the original salted caramel candy inevitably led to the development of other confections. Because it is made with butter, cream, and lots of sugar, it is also an ideal flavouring for dairy-related products. Frozen desserts manufacturers were first to jump on the trend. Fluid dairy products also fared well with the flavourful ingredient and suppliers started to offer it both in natural and artificial formats, from protein powders and lattes, to cream makers. Non-dairy consumers enjoy the sweet-salty essence through vegan beverages, coffees, and teas.
In the foodservice industry, flavour trends are known to come and go, though some showcase staying power and remain popular for years. Sweet and salty is a popular dessert trend dominating the industry, showcasing the perfect balance of two strong flavour profiles with a successful consumer hold, simply because caramel mixed with salt is not only delicious but also satisfying.
Having lent its appeal to countless menu options and specialty products, the allure of salted caramel continues to grow in popularity with no signs of slowing down.