Articles, Blog

The Physics of Caramel: How To Make a Caramelized Sugar Cube

October 9, 2019


When I first saw the following video – which
is in Spanish – I wanted to share it with my friends. Even those who don’t speak Spanish.
So, in collaboration with Arcadi Garcia, who made the original, here is Gastrofisica in
English. Sugar – or, at least, refined sugar- is a
white, odorless, fine-grained material, which means that, in some ways, it behaves like
a liquid. Caramel, on the other hand, is… Uhhh… No. How does THIS turn into THIS?
Well, it can’t be that complicated, right?? You heat up the sugar, the sugar melts, and
then begins the process of caramelization, which is a hot, sweet, sticky mess of crazy
chemical shenanigans we’re not going to get into; first because we’d have to get
into too much chemistry, and second because you know WHAT? This whole caramel thing isn’t
as simple as it looks. First, we’ve got the chemical process of caramelization,
which isn’t very well understood. We know that it’s complex, that it creates HUNDREDS
of different compounds and that it involves LOADS of chemical reactions that, as I said,
we’re not going to get into, and anyway we don’t understand it anywhere near 100%.
And don’t get me started on melting sugar! ‘Cause I mean, in the first place, what
temperature does sugar even melt at? Different studies people have done on this
don’t agree. Some say this temperature. Some say that temperature. In the end, it all seems
to hang on whether to reach this or that temperature you heat up the sugar fast or slow. Except
the whole delightful concept of “melting point” is precisely that, at the same pressure and
so on, the temperature at which something melts will always be the same, no matter how
you got there! The point of temperature is to give us an
idea of how much kinetic energy the molecules of a given substance have; how fast they move.
In order to melt, the molecules in a solid need, at the very least, a certain amount
of energy to break free from their neighbors, and that energy depends on the substance they
belong to. Like, at atmospheric pressure, water always melts at 0ºC, gallium at about
30ºC which is why it melts in your hand, iron melts at around 1500ºC and sugar, apparently,
WHENEVER THE HECK IT FEELS LIKE IT. But if sugar – or, in other words, sucrose
– melts, like, whenever it gets around to melting, that’s because it doesn’t actually
melt: before getting to that point, it breaks into its components: glucose and fructose.
Glucose and fructose, which are more stable, DO have real, proper melting points, and DO
melt the way we think of when we think of things melting, and they’re what you see when
sugar “melts” (you can’t… you can’t see me, but I’m making some crazy air quotes over
here). Most recipes for making caramel talk about
heating your oven up to 160ºC-180ºC [320°F – 355°F]. And if you want to make it in a
pot or whatever (like we’re doing in this video), you can get things up to more or less
that same temperature. But to simply break sucrose into glucose and fructose, we don’t
need that much heat! That is, if we control our excitement and instead keep the temperature
around 150ºC [300°F] but for a longer time, we can make caramel without having to melt
anything: it just goes directly from solid to solid! To give this a shot, we tried to dry-caramelize
some sugar cubes. With the oven set to 150ºC[300°F], after 3 and a half hours look at these beauties!
I mean, how sweet are these? Perfectly caramelized sugar cubes without melting a single thing!
They’re sugar cubes, except, you know, caramel sugar cubes. They taste like caramel, they
smell like caramel, they ARE caramel. In the form of a sugar cube. And yup, we were able
to do all of this just because we tried to understand the physics of caramel. Delicious,
delicious, physics.

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100 Comments

  • Reply Travis Heck March 2, 2019 at 3:46 am

    Care-a-mel. Or car-mel. Car-a-mel? Care-mel??! I like care-a-mel the best

  • Reply Cameron Rosen March 3, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Care-a-mel

  • Reply Skorpyotnt March 5, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    0:59 Disc Defragmentation. An interesting way to make caramel. But what if the sugar has bad sectors?

  • Reply Altwin Intrig March 12, 2019 at 10:08 am

    1:15 ah dammit Henry, mind your adverbs!

  • Reply Tom March 25, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    The sugar doesn't really reach a melting point but rather its glass transition temperature (Tg), characteristic of amorphous solids like sugar

  • Reply K0PSTL March 30, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    Now I have to try this

  • Reply Audreysaurs Stories April 3, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    I DONT CARMEL

    I DONT CARMEL

    I DONT care amel! Haha I need friends

  • Reply Michael Turner April 4, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    Anyway who wants to know the name of the track in the background it’s Lakey Inspired – Chill Day

  • Reply James Owen April 6, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    YES THANK YOU He doesn' t say CARE-UH-MEl. It is not care-mel folks its car-mul

  • Reply Christian La Banca April 15, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Im spanish…but Im still watching this video instead of the spanish one…WTF with me

  • Reply bnkjkdsbklafj hjbvjhbfdasjka April 30, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    damn i want to burn some shugar

  • Reply Itz ButterSum May 8, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Charizard

  • Reply ThePeaceweapon May 12, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    Why the heck does he just ignore the second A?
    Goddamnit America U’s are too hard for you and now this?

  • Reply ThePeaceweapon May 12, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    Why the heck does he just ignore the second A?
    Goddamnit America U’s are too hard for you and now this?

  • Reply ThePeaceweapon May 12, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Why the heck does he just ignore the second A?
    Goddamnit America U’s are too hard for you and now this?

  • Reply Failed Uploader May 16, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Why Don't You Do All Carmelization Chemistry

  • Reply The_Last_Dragonslayer May 18, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    I tried this and I did learn a lot but mostly were the heating element in my oven is

  • Reply Jacob R May 19, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    "Carmol"

  • Reply Kermit Sue & Sad May 24, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Secco wants to KNOW YOUR LOCATION

  • Reply Griffin Lee June 18, 2019 at 12:24 am

    1:37 Allons-y! Great Doctor Who reference!

  • Reply Al Kaholic June 20, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    It's carAmel. I'm sure I'm the very first person ever to say this.

    (Yeah despite knowing that, I still couldn't not say it. Made me cringe all the way through what was otherwise an interesting vid.)

  • Reply Al Kaholic June 20, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    "Yarrrr…. he be sayin' it correctly."

    – Captain Barbossa

  • Reply vip diamond2755 July 6, 2019 at 12:28 am

    If we melt some thing we got HALF LIFE -3 ?

  • Reply NEWBEATS MUSIC. July 6, 2019 at 2:15 am

    Howabout mary jane candy?

  • Reply Muerta July 8, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    CAR – A – MEL

  • Reply Carpe Mkarzi July 9, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Odd, tried the cube thing 3 times now, just end up with melted cubes and burned sugar…maybe a convection oven?

  • Reply Angel Tirta July 11, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I'm not smart enough for this, yet I still watch it wtf

  • Reply oscar hulm July 11, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Ca ra mel not car mol 😂

  • Reply Tenderizer17 July 12, 2019 at 5:30 am

    * literally puts a handful of caramel chocolates into mouth while watching this video

  • Reply Michael Chen July 12, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    This option will defragment files on the drive.

  • Reply Dr. strange July 12, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    😲💥

  • Reply 0P RoyP July 14, 2019 at 4:09 am

    Bueno, parece que hablas español, nice

  • Reply Potato Girl July 14, 2019 at 7:15 am

    "Carmel"

    DO YOU NOT SEE THE SECOND "A"?
    THIS ONE RIGHT HERE?
    Caramel
    ^

  • Reply fish July 14, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I heard the explanation once that sugar is like ice at room temperature and if you heat it up it becomes a liquid.

  • Reply James002 July 14, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    I want to share this with my friends but you spelled Caramelisation with a zed

  • Reply Dkaloger July 15, 2019 at 7:14 am

    So it’s like white oil

  • Reply Uberto July 17, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    I don' studied spanish but i can understand the original video🤣 (probaby because i'm italian)

  • Reply Dylan Purdy July 21, 2019 at 4:05 am

    So sugar can't melt, but split Into different molecules and then melts

  • Reply Taquito_con_ Queso July 26, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    Hablas español?

  • Reply Taquito_con_ Queso July 26, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Teacher: come on the problems are not that complex
    The problems: melting sugar

  • Reply Rude Uno Card July 26, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Caramel has its own physics?

    WHAT THE FUCCKKKK

  • Reply the real god of cringe149 July 27, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    Mi idioma materno es el español y no se por que me apareció esta version en inglés en vez de la original

  • Reply A July 29, 2019 at 1:21 am

    >carmol
    jfc

  • Reply shy bound July 29, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    it's 2019 and scientists haven't figured out how sugar turns into caramel?

  • Reply Pugz4Life July 30, 2019 at 12:44 am

    Was it a convection oven?

  • Reply Keith Grant July 30, 2019 at 10:45 pm

    Watching him aggressively stir the caramel as it melts and ruining its clarity 😭

  • Reply Double Peace July 31, 2019 at 7:08 am

    No one:
    Minutephysics at the beginning of the video:NO

  • Reply BL1TZKRI3G July 31, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Carmol sounds like a type of gasoline.

  • Reply birb xd July 31, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    ITS CA-RA-MEL.

  • Reply Patrick Mittel July 31, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    when does scp 2007 want to wake up? 1:52

  • Reply Black B August 1, 2019 at 12:30 am

    Caramel tastes so much better if you use brown sugar 🤤.. Plus, at around(of course) 115 degrees Celsius it's done.
    Add some pecans, stir until the sugar crystallizes, and you've got yourself a treat! Or even better! Forget the pecans and add some room temp. creme instead (not over the heat or it will blow up). Then, without stirring, let it go to a boil for a minute and gently stir on low heat. The magic will happen before your very eyes..
    Careful! This stuff is highly addictive 🤤.

  • Reply Ayman Hussain August 1, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    Cuhruhmul or cayramel?

  • Reply Blue Raspberry August 1, 2019 at 11:31 pm

    0:23 why’d your caramel look like dead roaches?

  • Reply Boshua Borman August 2, 2019 at 8:34 am

    There is a second "a" in caramel, people should really pronounce it.

  • Reply Abhishikta Roy August 2, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    This one time I didn't find sugar very "sweet " !!

  • Reply Big Daddy August 2, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Half life 3 confirmed

  • Reply Random Dude August 3, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I would buy those caramel sugar cubes. Call em caramel cubes and sell them

  • Reply M & R's Tube August 4, 2019 at 2:10 am

    Carmel. Really?

  • Reply Jay Stone August 4, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I'm going to have to try this via sous vide

  • Reply Xern August 4, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Is it just me or the hardened caramel at the start of the video looks like cockroaches?

  • Reply C 139 August 4, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    The chemistry here is just… complicated.

  • Reply Brandon Carter August 4, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Impressive

  • Reply Yasin Öztürk August 4, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    all the people saying that he pronounced caramel wrong have probably never heard of a regional dialect either

  • Reply Berzerius August 4, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you so much. I was so sick of burning my caramel.

  • Reply Brittain Dupree August 5, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Cáramél

  • Reply George vanderByl August 5, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    If u use the right measurement system u gotta use the right pronunciation of caramel, keep up

  • Reply Spider Juice August 5, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    0:42 Too much chemistry? Can such a concept have any basis in reality? I think not!
    And I believe that caramelization is basically polymerization of sugar via a condensation reaction, producing water as a byproduct – which is then lost as steam, so driving the equilibrium forward… or else angels effect the change. One of those.

  • Reply Bob Marney August 5, 2019 at 10:46 pm

    Cool, I learned almost nothing wooo

  • Reply Don Wald August 6, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Don’t stir it!!! 😥😥😥

  • Reply Jrbrichie August 6, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    2:50 ah yes a sugar joke

  • Reply Albin9000 August 6, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    I really wanna try to make those caramel cubes but i don't know for how long, I only need an estimate so I can get the general idea

  • Reply synical13 August 6, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I say carmel because saying it the correct way makes everyone sound smug. Go ahead, try it, you'll sound like an asshole.

  • Reply Jaya Saputra August 6, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    No matter how hard you try, it's still chemistry. Chemistry students will easily understand the video, but physics students may find it difficult to wrap their heads around that sucrose molecule, among other things.

  • Reply 4P5 August 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Oh ho?

  • Reply Zappyguy111 August 7, 2019 at 8:16 am

    I'm totally going to do this for my morning coffees, thank you Gastrofisica.

  • Reply Parth Bhave August 7, 2019 at 11:23 am

    How the hell did all those reactions that require 180 deg C to happen, took place at 150?

  • Reply Nemanul Coy August 7, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    I tried this my self and with some sugar cubes it worked but others melted

  • Reply Daniel White August 7, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    What's "Carmel"?

  • Reply Pyrohawk August 8, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Time to make some AWESOME sprinkles/cake duster

  • Reply ItWasntMeEitherMayBe August 8, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    What's this kara-mel you speak of?

  • Reply Joshua Cook August 8, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    It's not actually caramel though

  • Reply Jus Jaisinghani August 8, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    I thought that sugar and caramel were chemistry but nope😳

  • Reply jon doe August 9, 2019 at 3:08 am

    Prescriptive vs descriptive. Classic.

  • Reply Julian Harari August 9, 2019 at 3:12 am

    how do you even make those sugar cubes?

  • Reply D V D's R us August 9, 2019 at 11:47 am

    mmhm i would love some car-mul cubes

  • Reply me Dinesh August 9, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    We chefs need this stuff in English every video of Spanish channel about food
    Make it own too we would be happy
    Thanks

  • Reply Purple Macaw August 10, 2019 at 4:16 am

    carm mol != ca ra mel

  • Reply Rob Mckennie August 10, 2019 at 4:26 am

    and that's to say nothing about what happens when you add water

  • Reply Kyle W August 10, 2019 at 10:08 am

    "carmul"

  • Reply Hunter Greene August 10, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I hate the way you say Caramel

  • Reply mzoli1222 August 10, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    CarAmel

  • Reply Adrian Brand August 11, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Dude, I cannot accept that pronunciation. There is an A after car. It is ca-ra-mel, not car-mel. How do you drop the A all together?

  • Reply Kaan Tozkan August 11, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    This is chemistry

  • Reply Jeff Haskin August 12, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    I know "gastro" in it's most literal use refers to the stomach, but in the Spanish use of "gastrofisica," would "food science" be a better culteral translation than "stomach science"?

  • Reply Pramienjager August 13, 2019 at 5:39 am

    Moisture affects sugar and it's "melting point" a lot. It's why sugar melts in your hand despite you not bursting into flames.

  • Reply Carl August 15, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Great vídeo, stupid music.

  • Reply Snakes_Shadow August 19, 2019 at 5:18 am

    What specifically did you do to get the sugar cubes to stay cubes?

    I just tired following your instructions, but they liquified! It hasn't even been the full 3 and a half hours, and most of them have turned to liquid.

  • Reply Mahboobunissa Khan August 23, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    WHENEVER THE HECK IT FEELS LIKE IT😂😂😂

  • Reply Lachlan Dunn September 17, 2019 at 11:04 am

    This video was VIOLENTLY American with the amount of times caramel was pronounce Carmel

  • Reply Icalasari September 25, 2019 at 6:30 am

    Seems like the fructose and glucose just… tangle in a different way?

    I mean yes way more complex than that but that seems like the summary of it. It heats up just enough to break down, letting the components tangle instead of forming back into normal sugar, changing the structure

    If the video was meant to show the complexity, then it failed by simplifying it enough that at least some people can simplify it further in a wrong way

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