Verdict: Most caramel is vegan, but some is not.
- Caramel is made by heating sugar, but if you’re in the U.S., not all sugar is vegan (although most is).
- Additionally, some caramel has dairy ingredients added to it
- If you want to be 100% about caramel in a product, contact the manufacturer – sometimes “caramel” contains dairy and it won’t be on the label.
You’ll find caramel in a lot of candy, snacks, and recipes.
They look vegan, but you’re not quite sure about the caramel.
The tricky part is that a lot of products that list “caramel” in the ingredients don’t specify if it contains dairy or not, or how it was made.
Ingredients in Caramel
The simplest, pure caramel is made only by heating sugars. Pretty much any type of sugar can be used for this.
However, on top of the sugar, there’s also often:
- Dairy ingredients
- Potentially non-vegan sugar
Let’s look at both of these issues in a bit more detail.
Potential Issue #1 – Dairy in Caramel
The majority of caramel or caramel sauces that you see being used in foods also contain dairy (most often milk and cream).
Given the prevalence of the form of caramel with dairy in it, it’s not safe to assume that any caramel is vegan.
Potential Issue #2 – Non-Vegan Sugar in Caramel
Caramel can be made with any type of sugar, but typically uses white sugar.
The problem with that is that not all white sugar is vegan, especially in North America.
It’s often filtered with bone char (from cow bones). So even though there is no animal product in the final product, you’re still contributing to the animal slaughtering industry if you consume this type of sugar, which makes it not vegan.
Some vegans don’t care too much about this issue, but I’ll let you make up your own mind.
Verdict: Don’t Assume Caramel is Vegan
Unless they explicitly state the ingredients, I’d suggest being on the safe side and avoiding food with caramel.
Don’t confuse caramel with caramel color though, which is typically vegan-friendly.
If you see caramel as an ingredient in something you really want to have, contact the manufacturer and ask them directly, as they’re the only ones who can tell you if their caramel is vegan.
If you need caramel for baking, either buy one that’s vegan certified, or make your own.