Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Salted Caramel Band Wagon

Sometimes food trends sneak up on eaters, wiggling their way into the cracks and crevices of culinary pop culture, before we even realize they're upon us.  The early to mid 20th century saw sweetened bowls of milk drenched cereal slowly, but surely, replace eggs, bacon, and pancakes as typical breakfast fare.  The 80s saw the rise of micro brews, which would eventually horn in on Budweiser's & Miller's virtual monopoly on the American beer market.  Today eaters find themselves surrounded by foods flavored to taste like salted caramel.

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When I first heard of the trend, I figured chefs & food manufacturers were trying to capitalize on the long running popularity of Cracker Jacks, candy-coated popcorn and peanuts, well known for being packaged with a prize of nominal value inside.

As it turns out, the famous salty/sweet snack, registered in 1896, has nothing to do with the current fad.

According to a New York Times article, America's love affair with the flavor of salted caramel was imported directly from France. Heavily salted butter caramels are, apparently, a traditional treat in the coastal town of Brittany, France.

With this tradition in mind, Pierre Herm, the Parisian pastry chef known for his experimentation, invented a salted caramel macaron, an almond meringue cookie with a salted caramel filling. The cookie quickly inspired a loyal following among American foodies who became intent on producing their own salted caramel something.

Today, multiple products feature this flavor combination, including, but not limited to:

  • Boxed Sea Salt Caramels,
  • Lean Protein and Fiber Bar - Salted Caramel,
  • Monin Gourmet Flavoring Syrup - Salted Caramel,
  • Salted Caramel White Chocolate Bars,
  • Torani Sugar Free Syrup - Salted Caramel,
  • Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Sticks,
  • Kind Nuts & Spices Bar - Caramel Almond & Sea Salt,
  • Funky Chunky® Sea Salt Caramel Snacks,
  • Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels,
  • Sea Salt Caramel & Chocolate Dipped Strawberries,
  • Snyder's of Hanover Salted Caramel Pretzel Pieces,
  • Smucker’s Simple Delight Salted Caramel Topping,
  • and BEN & JERRY`S Salted Caramel Core Ice Cream.

  • My good friend, Sarah B., even made salted caramel popsicles for her kids, the recipe for which, I'm still waiting to receive, by the way.

    Perhaps the most surprising incarnation of this flavor profile was Buffalo Wild Wings’ use of it as a wing sauce on their recent summer time menu.   One doesn’t often think of candy coated chicken.  However, when coated in the sauce, the wings deliver the initial taste of sweet BBQ.  After three or four bites though, I noticed a pleasing burnt caramel taste on the back of my palette.

    The flavor of salted caramel will undoubtedly find its way into dishes and commercial products for some time to come.  One day it may even be considered to be a run of the mill flavor alongside chocolate and vanilla.

    What’s your favorite salted caramel flavored food?
    Supplemental Note Added 09/05/14:

    Since posting this blog, Sarah B. has provided me with the following recipe.

    Salted Caramel Popsicles

    Mine take about three cups of liquid to fill, so I play around with the proportions, but it's typically just simple syrup and fruit. The fruit can be left raw, roasted in the oven or stewed in 1/2" of water, then it gets puréed. These have 3/4 cup of simple syrup, 1/2 cup of salted caramel sauce and 1 3/4 cups of apricot purée. They are by far my favorite of any pops I've made, but I've also done strawberry-rhubarb, strawberries and balsamic vinegar, ginger-peach, raspberries & cream, vanilla bean-pear, roasted nectarine and basil.

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