14 Caramel Sauce Brands, Ranked Worst To Best
When ranking caramel sauces, it's reasonable to expect a wide variety of store-available brands; what's surprising, however, is all the different variations on the theme.
Only three main ingredients go into making a traditional caramel sauce: cane sugar, heavy cream, and butter. After that, there are as many variations as there are people cooking the sauce. Some add an inverted syrup (like honey, maple syrup, or corn syrup) to keep the caramel sauce from crystalizing after it sets. Others use vanilla, sea salt, or additional extracts and infusions to adapt the caramel sauce to their preferences.
Taking these ingredients into account, as well as overall texture, thickness, flavor, color, and mouthfeel, we kept limited the testing pool solely to plain caramel and salted caramel sauces and syrups (since those are the most widely available options and easiest to fairly compare). In several cases, the results were surprising — others were what was expected. Here are the top 14 store-bought caramel sauce brands, independently tasted and ranked from worst to best.
It was exciting to consider a caramel sauce that included brown butter, a flavor profile typically found in artisan-style confections — and widely sold under Target's store brand, Favorite Day, no less. This sauce comes packaged in a 10-ounce glass jar, similar to some of the more expensive caramel sauces, but for only $4.89 at our local store.
The sauce has an approachable thickness to it, and a medium bronze (as opposed to gold) caramel color, which seems to fit with the idea of a toasted brown butter flavor. The ingredient list begins with cane sugar and eventually includes actual brown butter as well, but much of the excitement disappeared once the taste hit.
The sweetness of the sauce doesn't land immediately, but when it does, it brings an acrid taste with it, akin to chewing on charred firewood. Not believing our own taste buds, we tasted it again (and again), with the same unpleasant reaction each time. But eventually, it subsided, leaving us with a strange lingering sweetness that seemed like it had permeated our taste buds. Sadly, this isn't remotely what we thought it would be, nor would we try again.
Stonewall Kitchen's Sea Salt Caramel Sauce is made with traditional caramel sauce ingredients, which is why it's hard to understand how it came out so disagreeably.
Beginning with the texture, the sauce is thicker, but slick — sort of like a goopy hair gel. The color of the sauce is also a bit on the pale side, as if the sugars weren't completely caramelized. While the pale color isn't noticeable by simply looking at the jar, upon spooning it out, it becomes immediately clear that this is a pale amber, not a richly-golden caramel color.
This sauce is also really salty, relying far too heavy on the sea salt and not enough on the caramel side. While one could potentially imagine putting this sauce on ice cream, it would make for an unappealing cup of coffee. There are five different caramel sauces (and a dulce de leche) currently in the Stonewall Kitchen collection, including the Sea Salt Caramel Sauce, each retailing for the suggested price of $8.95.
Hershey's is likely to be one of the most prominent caramel sauce options at any grocery store, but that doesn't mean it's the best. It's one of two different caramel sauces that the brand makes, comes in 14-ounce glass jars, and can typically be found in the ice cream aisle.
The first word that came to mind when tasting Hershey's caramel topping is "milky" — in both taste and texture. The sauce is very liquid, so much so that it should probably be kept in the refrigerator to get as thick as possible before consumption. The flavor is a very milky and sweet light caramel, the same of which can be said for the sauce's color, which is a pale, translucent milky honey.
The ingredient list starts with high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk, and ends with caramel color and artificial colors. So, this is pretty much just corn syrup tinted with milk and dyed to look like caramel. Our biggest question after seeing 16 ingredients listed on the label is, how can a caramel sauce have so much in it and still taste like nothing?
Depending on where you're located, Bosco's may or may not be a brand with which you're familiar. Owned by Sea Breeze, a beverage company based in Towaco, New Jersey, the company owns and distributes dessert and breakfast sauces in the surrounding region and ships nationally.
Bosco's makes a collection of seven syrup flavors, including sea salt caramel. While tasting, we noticed that the saltiness of the sauce shines through, attaching itself to the toastiest part of the caramel sauce flavor, making for a toasted nutty flavor (although there are no nuts in this product).
It's not a traditional caramel sauce by a long shot; it's corn syrup-based with natural and artificial flavors, thickeners, and food coloring. But the sauce has something unexpected going for it — it's the only caramel sauce on this list that doesn't include dairy, which might be exactly what someone needs. In lieu of heavy cream and butter, the sauce uses non-dairy creamer, made from coconut oil. So while it might not go toe-to-toe for the top spot on this list, we'd rather reach for Bosco's than go without.
If you were to secretly put Smucker's Caramel Sundae Syrup on a stack of pancakes and tell us it was Smucker's Breakfast Syrup instead (the little cups you get from the diner with peel-off lids that mimic maple syrup — but aren't), we'd have a very hard time telling the difference.
After a side-by-side comparison of the two syrups, however, we'd almost rather have the imitation breakfast syrup. Both syrups are made with corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, not cane sugar. The caramel syrup then has nonfat milk, fructose, corn starch, salt, natural flavor, preservatives, caramel color, artificial vanilla flavor, and food coloring in it. On the other hand, the breakfast syrup only has water, salt, caramel color, and artificial and natural flavors, a relatively short list in comparison.
Smucker's Caramel Sundae Syrup is sweet, perhaps the sweetest of all the sauces we tasted. But if you were in the mood for a more balanced caramel flavor, one that carries toasty and salty notes with a creamy and buttery finish and thick, melt-in-your-mouth texture, this isn't it. A 20-ounce bottle retails for about $3.50 to $4, but you do get the added benefit of putting it on both your ice cream and breakfast waffles.
You might get the impression that this caramel sauce from Monin is one of the better sauces on the market, from its higher suggested price point of $10 per bottle, to its categorization as a "gourmet sauce" on Monin's website — even the cleaner, minimal, and neutral and gold-toned packaging which coordinates with the five other gourmet sauces Monin offers has a kind of luxury vibe to it. Which is why we were somewhat disappointed to read the ingredients and see that this sauce's formula isn't that different from what can be found in several of the other sauces that have come before it on the list.
The major ingredients are sugar, water, nonfat dry milk, corn syrup, milk fat, fructose, natural flavors, and modified food starch, followed by caramel color, salt, and several preservatives.
The color of the sauce is a mid-range caramel color, with an especially milky translucency, although it doesn't translate into the rich buttery flavor we would have liked to taste in a gourmet sauce. If offered in a cafe or restaurant, we'd take a coffee flavored with the syrup, but given the ingredients and price, we can't justify going out of our way to buy a bottle of this sauce for use at home.
Whole Foods' store-brand caramel sauce is predictably organic, which is the only brand on our list with that distinction. It's made with organic cane sugar, tapioca syrup, nonfat dry milk, dry whole milk, natural flavor, and salt. We noticed that the addition of nonfat and whole dry milk instead of the heavy cream and butter in traditional sauces, which makes for a sauce with a slightly different flavor profile, texture, and slightly lower calorie count than the heavy cream and butter-based caramel sauces.
The sauce has a lighter color, looks more golden than caramel, and is slightly less creamy than sauces with full-fat dairy ingredients — but no less milky. The flavor of the caramel is still noticeably toasty without being too sweet, but the texture and finish come across as slightly chalky. For less than $5 per 15.8-ounce bottle, we think the Whole Foods salted caramel sauce is a good choice if you're specifically looking for an organic sauce, or want a sauce that isn't made without high fructose corn syrup. But if you're looking just looking for a sauce made with quality ingredients, there are better options.
Ghirardelli has positioned itself as a premium sauce option, and of the more widely available brands, it does cost slightly more. For example, the Smucker's Syrup costs $3.99 in our local store, whereas the Ghirardelli Sauce costs $5.99.
Interestingly, the ingredients in the Ghirardelli sauce aren't completely different than many of the other sauces in its price range. Like several others, the first ingredient listed is corn syrup, although it does go on to list inverted and regular cane sugar too. It includes heavy cream, but it also contains sweetened condensed milk.
What it ultimately boils down to is flavor, and the Ghirardelli syrup boasts more. The general profile is still on the milky side, but it's got a more developed caramel flavor, without any strange aftertastes or lingering textures. It doesn't have a synthetic taste, doesn't include artificial flavors (although it includes natural flavors), and doesn't use artificial colors to achieve the pale gold caramel color. So ultimately, it's worth paying an extra dollar or two for this syrup compared to some of the other lower-priced options.
You might recognize Torani syrups from your favorite coffee shop, but the company also makes smaller product sizes for home use. Many of Torani's fruit syrups come in large, recognizable bottles, and are a mainstay in food service establishments with playful and creative flavors, but the syrup company also created the "Puremade" line of higher-end sauces, which includes a caramel sauce, four chocolate sauces, and a pumpkin pie sauce.
At first squeeze, we noticed the Puremade caramel sauce is very much on the looser end of the caramel sauce thickness spectrum. But knowing that this particular sauce is intended for use in coffee and other beverages, we reserved judgment until tasting further. The sauce itself is noticeably buttery, a flavor profile that's really lacking in many of the other squeeze bottle caramel sauces. It's also got a more pronounced caramel flavor and color, which is just strong enough to accent a cup of coffee without getting lost in the roasted coffee flavor. The suggested price of $6.99 seems reasonable, given that the syrup is made with actual heavy cream and butter, and genuinely feels like a tiny upgrade to your morning coffee routine.
The Sur La Table store-brand salted caramel sauce is one of those sauces that manages to offer something unexpected in a field of predictability. It's made with the more traditional ingredients used for caramel sauce (cane sugar, heavy cream, sea salt, and pure vanilla), which explains why the sauce currently retails for nearly $13 per 10-ounce jar. But there's another, brighter flavor that's layered into the toasty sweet and slightly salty caramel. When drizzled onto ice cream, it isn't immediately noticeable, but when tasted straight from the jar, we noticed a slightly fruity zing.
There are two additional ingredients in this caramel sauce that we didn't find in other sauces, which could very well contribute to its slightly more acidic flavor. Cream of tartar and mixed tocopherols are the last two ingredients listed at the end of the ingredients list, and cream of tartar (which is a natural byproduct of the winemaking process) has an approachable, acidic taste to it. While the cream of tartar might be used to keep the caramel sauce shelf-stable, the additional flavor also sets it apart from the crowd.
Mrs. Richardson's Caramel Dessert Sauce might be what we'd consider the "true neutral" when it comes to our ideal caramel sauce flavor and texture. The sauce is thick enough to feel substantial without being too liquidy or runny, and the texture is melt-in-your-mouth clean, without lingering flavors or a strange mouthfeel. Flavor-wise, the sauce has a restrained sweetness but is fully caramelized. There aren't any strange or strong fruity, nutty, or toasted flavors, just caramel. The color isn't weak or pale, and it even smells slightly buttery.
The brand also sells a sea salt caramel dessert sauce, but we opted to try the regular caramel version for an idea of what the sauce is like without any frills. Interestingly, the first two ingredients in this sauce are corn syrup (not high fructose) and sweetened condensed milk. After water, it also includes butter, natural flavors, and salt. So we're tempted to argue that this is actually a dulce de leche, but since we don't know exactly how it's cooked, that would just be speculation. A 16.6-ounce jar costs $4.49 without tax, which also seems to be a pretty neutral price for caramel sauce.
Cleverly dubbed "Trader Jacques," the Trader Joe's store-brand Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce is made with hand-harvested French fleur de sel sea salt and retails for $3.99 per 10-ounce jar — an impressively low price given that this sauce is made with cane sugar, milk, cream, butter, and pure vanilla extract. Other than the ingredients and price point, Trader Joe's caramel sauce stands out because of its texture, so thick at room temperature that it resembles sticky soft caramel candies that have melted in their wrappers.
The thickness of the sauce could be partially due to the tapioca and carrageenan in the syrup, which act as stabilizers and thickeners. The thicker texture, which is still smooth and melts easily when enjoying the sauce by the spoonful, is very nice but can be thinned out by flashing the sauce in the microwave for a few seconds if desired. Otherwise, the lightly salty caramel is satisfyingly toasty and indulgent without being cloyingly sweet, and the price point for the quality of the ingredients is hard to beat.
The Williams Sonoma Salted Caramel Sauce is by far the thickest, darkest caramel sauce in this lineup. Even at room temperature, the sauce was stable enough to hold its soft shape without puddling. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because when it comes to the flavor of this caramel sauce, we're sold on the darker and moody caramel. The salt level is mild, which is good considering how dark the caramel is, not making it exceptionally sweet, either.
We like this sauce in coffee, since the extra toastiness of the caramel pairs well with the roasted beans, although it might steal the show on a bowl of vanilla ice cream. It makes sense to use this caramel sauce on richer-flavored ice creams, like dark chocolate or even pistachio. We can also see it as a great addition to a layer cake filling or frosting.
The caramel sauce is sold exclusively at Williams Sonoma, in stores, and online. A jar costs $19.95, which is one of the highest-priced jars on this list, but it also contains the second-most sauce, with over a pound of sauce (17 ounces to be exact).
Coop's Salted Caramel Sauce is the kind of high-quality caramel sauce you'd make at home or in a professional pastry kitchen. The straightforward ingredients list includes cane sugar, fresh cream, butter, salt, sunflower lecithin, and vanilla extract. (The sunflower lecithin is a common ingredient that serves as a natural emulsifier.)
This is a rich caramel in both color and flavor, with a noticeable but balanced saltiness that keeps the overall sweetness in check. It's thicker and creamier on the tongue than almost all of the other sauces we tasted (aside from the Williams Sonoma), but melts away without any lingering or artificial textures. It tastes great on top of ice cream and stirred into coffee — but we're just as likely to eat it straight from the 10-ounce jar with a spoon and no remorse.
Of the five dessert toppings the brand makes, this is the only caramel offering. The other four sauces are variations of hot fudge sauce. At the time of this writing, a jar of Coop's Salted Caramel sauce retails for about $13, which is understandably more than some might expect to pay — although it makes sense when considering the ingredients and how great it tastes. Splurge on the real thing.