Caramel color can be derived from a variety of food-grade carbohydrates including dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, and starch hydrolysates. The carbohydrate is processed to produce one of four types of caramel color (i.e., Class I, II, III, and IV). Each class consists of a variety of caramels with their own unique properties that make it suitable for particular applications.
Class I caramel, also known as plain caramel, has a strong aftertaste and mild aroma. Caramel within this class can range in color from yellow to red. Class I caramel colors are stable in alcohol, tannin, and salt-rich environments, making them ideal food additives for whiskies, liqueurs, lemonade products, poultry coatings, juice concentrates, sauces, and cocoa extenders.
Class II caramel colors offer an exceptional red tone, as well as a mild flavor profile and aroma. As with Class I, Class II caramel colors exhibit good stability in alcohol, so they are often found in alcohol, such as wine, rum, liqueurs, and brandy. Class II caramels can also be found in light cake mixes and other snack foods.
Caramels within Class III have a sweet like aroma. Class III caramel color is used in a wide variety of applications, including cereal, beer, pet food, licorice, and gravy, soy, and BBQ sauce, due to its stability in alcohol and salt-rich environments and red-brown coloring.
The most common and most versatile of the caramel colors is Class IV. Caramels within this class have a very mild aroma and flavor profile, and a rich dark brown color. Their stability in alcohol, tannin, and acid-rich environments make Class IV caramels ideal food additives for the widest variety of applications. These versatile caramel colors are often added to balsamic vinegar, coffee, chocolate syrups, soft drinks and other carbonated beverages, baked goods, cocoa extenders, pet foods, sauces, soups, meat rubs, seasoning blends, and other flavorings.