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Caramel Chemistry


Caramel Chemistry

By Anna Goolsby, Marketing Assistant

Caramel is a tasty treat that has delighted kids and adults alike for over 1,000 years! It was first developed in 950 A.D by ancient Arabic people who originally used it for their hair. Talk about a sticky situation! Now, you can find it everywhere from individually wrapped morsels to Nashville’s own Goo Goo Cluster. How exactly do you make caramel? Turns out, it’s all in the chemistry! This easy and fun DIY activity helps you follow each chemical reaction as you cook up your own delicious batch of ooey gooey caramels.


  • A stovetop (Grab an adult!)
  • Medium sauce pan
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 8″ x 8″ foil-lined pan
  • Coarse sea salt (Optional)
  • Wax paper

Cooking Directions:

In your pan, combine butter and sugar and stir over medium heat until melted. Stir in corn syrup and condensed milk. Bring to a boil and then decrease the temperature to a simmer and stir constantly for 7-10 minutes or until mixture achieves a deep, golden color. Have an adult help you pour the hot caramel into your foil-lined pan and allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt for extra flavor if desired and carefully cut into squares before wrapping in wax paper. YUM!

Where’s the Science?:

Cooking caramels is simple and fun, but there is A LOT of science going on! As you heat the ingredients in the pan, you create what is called a Maillard reaction. This chemical reaction occurs when amino acids in your proteins (butter and condensed milk) is combined with sugar and heat, resulting in a series of reactions that cause the brown color you see and the rich flavors you taste.

Further Exploration:

  • In what other recipes do you see the Maillard reaction? Explore how this reaction can make different flavors in different foods!
  • Try a piece of caramel with salt and one without. How did the flavor change and why? Explore the science of salty and sweet here.




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