Does Caramel Need To Be Refrigerated?

Short answer: Yes, whether caramel needs to be refrigerated depends on various factors such as its type, storage conditions, and personal preferences. While refrigeration can extend shelf life, it may affect texture. Proper packaging and following instructions on store-bought caramel are essential for maintaining its quality.

The caramel season is almost upon us. Oh, joy!

Crisp fall weather goes hand and hand with caramel. Decadent and satisfying, this sweet can take many forms. The flavor of caramel is nostalgic for me, bringing back memories of my childhood.

Growing up in New England, we’d start seeing caramel apples in the grocery stores in October. Trying to convince my mother that they were a healthy snack was a hard sell!

My grandmother’s yummiest dessert was gingerbread cake with homemade caramel drizzle. Thanksgiving wouldn’t have been the same without it. 

And chocolate paired with caramel? Blissful. Even today, chewy, chocolate-caramel cookies are my favorite pastry.

Homemade caramel is one of my all-time favorite things to make. When made with real cream and butter, it will boost the flavor to pure ambrosia!

In a pinch, there are many quality brands of caramel available in the grocery store.

Whether homemade or a commercial brand, you may be wondering – how do I store my leftover caramel? Does Caramel Need To Be Refrigerated?

The answer is no, not immediately. But there are several things to consider.

Understanding Caramel

Caramel results from heating sugar into a liquid syrup. As the sugar breaks down, the syrup turns a deep golden-brown color. The flavor deepens, turning darker and more complex.

The dressed-up version of caramel adds heavy cream, butter, and vanilla. These ingredients give caramel a more robust flavor.

Additionally, caramel can be soft (sauces or fillings), chewy (candies), or hard (candies).

The stiffness of caramel depends on the length of the cooking time.

Listed below are the types of caramel available. Each has its own rules for proper storage.

  • Caramel sauce – homemade with dairy
  • Caramel sauce, basic – no dairy
  • Caramel filling – homemade with dairy
  • Caramel topping – store-bought
  • Caramel topping – store-bought, vegan
  • Caramel soft candies, wrapped
  • Caramel hard candies, wrapped

Shelf Life of Caramel

The shelf life of caramel depends on multiple factors. One of the crucial determinants is water activity, which refers to the amount of moisture present in the caramel. Higher water activity can lead to bacterial growth and reduced shelf life. Manufacturers take this into account when producing caramel to ensure a safe and enjoyable product.

Refrigeration: Pros and Cons

Refrigerating caramel has its advantages. It can extend the shelf life, especially for homemade caramel, by slowing down bacterial growth. However, refrigeration can also affect the texture of caramel. When exposed to cold temperatures, caramel candies can become hard and lose their creamy consistency. Caramel sauce, on the other hand, may thicken considerably.

How To Store Homemade Caramel Sauce That Has Dairy

If you’ve made your own caramel sauce using butter and cream, kudos! You’ll likely never go back to store-bought. This type of caramel can stay at room temperature for up to two days.

  • Store in a sealed container
  • Keep away from sunlight
  • After two days, refrigerate or freeze

How To Store Basic Caramel Sauce – No Dairy

If you cook sugar to a liquid state and brown it over medium heat, you’ll have a basic caramel sauce. This calls for no ingredients besides sugar and a dash of salt.

This is better used over a dessert with its own unique flavor. It’s not as delicious as caramel made with cream and butter.

This type of caramel sauce does not need refrigeration. It will turn grainy after a few days, though, and will need reheating.

  • Store in a cool, dark place (cabinet or pantry)
  • Reheat for better texture
  • Discard after one week – the original texture will never come back

Caramel Filling – Homemade With Dairy

Caramel filling calls for a longer cooking time than caramel sauce. It is a thicker product that gets very stiff when chilled.

For this reason, you may want to store it at room temperature. You can do so for up to two days. After that, refrigerate or freeze it.

  • Store in a sealed container
  • Store away from sunlight
  • Reheat if it becomes stiff
  • After two days, refrigerate or freeze

Caramel Topping – Store-bought

There are many brands of caramel topping for sale. They are often packaged for use on ice cream sundaes.

Look at the ingredient list. You’ll see most of them include some form of dairy, but they also have preservatives. The preservatives make store-bought caramel topping a more shelf-stable product.

  • If unopened, you can store it at room temperature for six months
  • Once opened, store it in the refrigerator
  • Always use a clean utensil to spoon it out (not your ice cream spoon)

Caramel Topping – Store-bought, Vegan

It’s now possible to find vegan caramel topping in some stores. Since these products do not contain dairy, they can stay at room temperature for longer.

  • If unopened, you can store it at room temperature for one year (brand-specific, so check the label)
  • Once opened, you can store it at room temperature for 3 – 5 days
  • Refrigerate for longer shelf life
  • Always use a clean utensil to spoon it out (not your ice cream spoon)

Caramel Soft Candies – Wrapped

Chewy, soft, wrapped caramels may contain dairy, but you can store them at room temperature. The longer cooking process stabilizes this candy.

  • You can store them at room temperature for 6 – 9 months from the manufacturing date
  • Be aware that stores will sell last year’s caramels (check the date)
  • Store in a cool, dark place (cabinet or pantry)

Caramel Hard Candies – Wrapped

Of all the types of caramel, caramel hard candies have the longest shelf life. This is because the cooking process continues to a hard-crack stage, like a lollipop.

  • You can store them at room temperature for up to one year
  • Store away from humidity
  • Do not refrigerate or freeze – the candy will break down

Recipes using caramel

img of Recipes using caramel

Photo credit Paul Einerhand on Unsplash

These are among my favorite recipes for caramel treats! Why not try one today?



So, does caramel need to be refrigerated? The answer depends on various factors, including the type of caramel, storage conditions, and personal preferences. Understanding the characteristics of caramel and its reaction to temperature can guide your storage choices. Whether you choose refrigeration, room temperature storage, or a combination of both, ensuring proper packaging and following instructions will help you enjoy caramel at its best.

Though commercial-brand caramel is a more shelf-stable product, homemade caramel tastes better. Immediate refrigeration is not needed for either.

After purchasing or making caramel, weigh your options.

Will you be using it within a few days? Or do you plan to keep it for longer?

Store your caramel at room temperature for a short term. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.

Caramel can elevate even a humble dessert to greater heights. Experiment using caramel on different desserts. There are so many ways to enjoy this delicious fall flavor!

  • A glaze of caramel with a sprinkling of pecans will turn plain brownies into turtle brownies
  • Dress up a chocolate pound cake with caramel drizzle
  • Dip apple slices in warm caramel for a mid-afternoon snack

If you have a question not answered in this article, please ask it in the comment section.

I’d love to hear about your experience using and storing all types of caramel. Please feel free to comment below.

Happy baking!

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