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The Sweet Beginnings of Caramelization *

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety Use caution when making the caramel, it is extremely hot and can burn severely if it gets on your skin. Adult supervision is required.
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Caramelization is the name of the cooking process that occurs as sugar is heated and the molecules begin to break apart. But what happens to the sugar as it breaks apart? And what do the physical changes mean for the flavor of the sugar? Using the Internet or cookbooks, read up on the chemistry of caramelization, then head to the kitchen with an adult to caramelize your own batch of sugar. With an adult's help, dissolve 1 1/3 cups of sugar in 2/3 cup of water. Heat the mixture in a pan over high heat, using a candy thermometer to constantly keep track of the temperature. Take out a spoonful of the mixture every time the syrup increases approximately 50°F in temperature and set the spoons aside. Label the temperature for each spoonful, and let each one cool. The last spoonful should be taken out when there is no significant increase in the temperature for at least 3 minutes of cooking. Examine each cooled spoonful. Is there a difference in coloration? Taste each spoonful and describe the flavor. What happens to the amount of sweetness? Can you explain your observations based on your background research? Note: Caramel candies take advantage of the caramelization process, but are usually made with milk, butter, or cream, rather than with water. Once you've tried this experiment with the sugar and watery syrup, you might want to compare those results to ones obtained using a traditional caramel candy recipe.

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Science Buddies Staff. "The Sweet Beginnings of Caramelization" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/FoodSci_p018.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 10). The Sweet Beginnings of Caramelization. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/FoodSci_p018.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-10-10


  • McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. pp. 656-657.

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