These two sweet dessert ingredients look alike, taste alike, and are often substituted for one another. So, are they the same thing?
The Short Answer:
No, Caramel and Dulce De Leche are not the same thing.
The Long Answer:
It’s not uncommon to see caramel substituted in many desserts and beverage for dulce de leche, especially if you’re in a Hispanic restaurant. They’re roughly the same color and consistency and have a very similar flavor. However, it’s important to remember that caramel and dulce de leche are not the same thing at all despite all of these similarities.
Caramel is made by heating white granulated sugar until it turns brown. It is then added to heavy whipping cream, butter, and vanilla to make the sweet treat that adorns every latte I’ve ever had. Caramel’s origins date back to the 1650s. The word caramel is actually of French origin, and when translated into English it means “burnt sugar.”
Dulce de leche is a product of the 19th century and translates from Spanish into “sweet milk.” Much like caramel’s translated name tells the story of how it is made, so too does dulce de leche. Typically, this sweet product is made by heating condensed milk, which contains far higher levels of sugar than regular cow’s milk. When the condensed milk is heated, the sugar within browns, giving dulce de leche its signature coloring. You’ll notice that dulce de leche is slightly more watery than caramel, and that’s because the milk dilutes the final product, making it runnier.
When it comes to using these products interchangeably, it’s usually fairly easy to do so. If you’re substituting dulce de leche for caramel, you should keep in mind that it’s a bit heavier than caramel, so you might want to ease back on it a bit. Similarly, if you’re substituting caramel for dulce de leche, you might want to add a bit more than the recipe calls for.
Do you prefer dulce de leche or caramel? Can you taste a difference? What is your favorite recipe involving both? Have you ever substituted one for the other? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!