Caramel color or caramel coloring is a water-soluble food coloring. It is made by heat treatment of carbohydrates (sugars), in general in the presence of acids, alkalis, or salts, in a process called caramelization. It is more fully oxidized than caramel candy, and has an odor of burnt sugar and a somewhat bitter taste. Its color ranges from pale yellow to amber to dark brown.
Caramel color is one of the oldest and most widely used food colorings for enhancing naturally occurring colors, correcting natural variations in color, and replacing color that is lost to light degradation during food processing and storage. The use of caramel color as a food additive in the brewing industry in the 19th century is the first recorded instance of it being manufactured and used on a wide scale. Today, caramel color is found in many commercially produced foods and beverages, including batters, beer, brown bread, buns, chocolate, cookies, cough drops, spirits and liquor such as brandy, rum, and whisky, chocolate-flavored confectionery and coatings, custards, decorations, fillings and toppings, potato chips, dessert mixes, doughnuts, fish and shellfish spreads, frozen desserts, fruit preserves, glucose tablets, gravy, ice cream, pickles, sauces and dressings, soft drinks (especially colas), sweets, vinegar, and more. Caramel color is widely approved for use in food globally but application and use level restrictions vary by country.