What are the ingredients in Starbucks caramel?

Starbucks is known for its wide variety of delicious coffee drinks, many of which feature caramel as a key ingredient. Caramel is used to add sweetness and depth of flavor to drinks like lattes, macchiatos, and frappuccinos. But what exactly goes into Starbucks caramel sauce?

The main ingredients in Starbucks caramel sauce are sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla. By combining these ingredients and cooking them to a concentrated syrup, Starbucks is able to achieve that distinctive caramel flavor in their drinks. The specific quantities and exact process for making the caramel sauce is a closely guarded secret recipe.


Sugar is the primary ingredient in any caramel. When sugar is heated to high temperatures, the molecules break down and re-form into hundreds of new compounds that add depth of flavor and characteristic caramel color.

Starbucks likely uses a combination of white granulated sugar and corn syrup in their caramel. The corn syrup helps prevent crystallization so the caramel has a smooth, velvety texture. The relative amounts of white sugar versus corn syrup impact the flavor profile of the caramel. More white sugar tends to taste slightly bitter, while more corn syrup makes it sweeter. Finding the right balance is an important part of the Starbucks caramel sauce recipe.


Butter is the second main ingredient in Starbucks caramel after sugar. Butter contributes considerable fat and dairy flavors that make the caramel taste richer. Fat coats the tongue to give a more lingering, indulgent mouthfeel compared to caramels made with just sugar and water.

The quantity and quality of the butter have a noticeable impact on the caramel flavor. More butter means a more buttery, fatty taste. Starbucks likely uses a high-quality butter with at least 80% butterfat for a premium caramel sauce. Lower quality or impure butters can introduce off-flavors.


Heavy cream adds additional dairy richness and viscosity to Starbucks caramel. The fat in the cream enables the emulsion of butterfat and sugar to remain smooth and thick. Without cream, the caramel would crystallize into a hard, brittle candy once cooled rather than having a pourable, liquid consistency.

The fat percentage of the heavy cream used in Starbucks caramel is probably 36-40%. Too little fat from cream can make the caramel thin or oily. Too much fat content results in caramel that is overly thick and greasy. Starbucks carefully balances the right proportion of cream to complement the butter and sugar.


Vanilla extract is an essential flavoring in Starbucks caramel that elevates the sweetness into a more complex, aromatic profile. Vanilla brings its characteristic warm, floral, slightly spicy essence. Even in small doses, vanilla makes caramel taste less one-dimensional.

Starbucks likely uses high-quality Madagascar vanilla with a rich vanilla flavor and aroma. Cheaper imitation vanilla extracts tend to taste harsh or chemical in comparison. A splash of real vanilla makes Starbucks caramel sauce pop.

The Caramel Making Process

While the exact recipe is secret, the general process for making Starbucks caramel involves:

1. Combining white granulated sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream, and vanilla in a large saucepan. The recipe is calibrated for the right texture and sweetness.

2. Cooking the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugars dissolve and the mixture comes to a controlled boil. This takes 10-15 minutes.

3. Allowing the mixture to continue cooking at a boil until it reaches 230-240°F on a candy thermometer. This temperature is critical to achieve the characteristic color and flavor through careful caramelization of the sugars. Controlling the temperature ensures optimal caramelization without burning.

4. Removing the caramel from the heat once it reaches the target temperature. At this stage, the caramel has a tan color and coats the back of a spoon.

5. Cooling the caramel down by placing the saucepan in an ice bath. This stops the cooking process for consistent results.

6. Transferring the cooled caramel to bottles or pumps for use in Starbucks drinks. The caramel lasts 1-2 months refrigerated.

Starbucks Caramel Sauce Nutrition Information

Starbucks caramel sauce is high in sugar and calories, given the main ingredients. A serving of 3 tablespoons (60ml) contains:

Calories Total Fat Saturated Fat Trans Fat Cholesterol Sodium Total Carbs Dietary Fiber Total Sugars Added Sugars Protein
120 0g 4g 0g 15mg 65mg 24g 0g 23g N/A 0g

As you can see, a serving of Starbucks caramel sauce packs 24g total carbohydrates and 23g sugars. There are 120 calories in just 3 tablespoons, so the caramel does come at a caloric cost. However, it adds an indulgent sweetness and depth that makes Starbucks drinks so crave-worthy for many people.

Potential Allergens in Starbucks Caramel

Starbucks caramel contains several potential food allergens to be aware of:

– Dairy – from the butter and cream. Those with milk/dairy allergies need to avoid Starbucks caramel.

– Corn – from corn syrup. The caramel could trigger reactions in those with corn allergies.

– Soy – Starbucks states their caramel may contain soy lecithin. This ingredient derived from soybeans could cause issues for soy-allergic individuals.

– Wheat – Starbucks warns their caramel is made on shared equipment with wheat, so there is a chance of cross-contact. People with celiac disease or wheat allergy should exercise caution.

– Eggs – Some Starbucks caramels may contain egg products. People with egg allergies should check with baristas about options.

– Tree nuts – Starbucks caramel is not made with tree nuts like pecans or almonds, but contamination during processing is possible. Those with nut allergies need to be aware.

In general, people with food allergies need to carefully assess Starbucks ingredients each time since formulations can vary. Ingredients and preparation procedures can change over time as well.

Vegan and Non-Dairy Starbucks Caramel Options

Given the dairy ingredients like butter and cream, original Starbucks caramel sauce is not vegan or dairy-free. However, Starbucks does offer vegan and non-dairy caramel syrups so those with dietary restrictions can also enjoy the caramel flavor.

The non-dairy options are made without butter, cream, or milk. Instead, they are thickened and sweetened using corn starch, sugar, non-dairy emulsifiers, and natural flavors. The specific ingredients vary between the pre-bottled and in-store pumped options.

Popular choices include:

– Starbucks Caramel Flavored Sauce – Made without dairy, this vegan caramel contains sugar, water, fructose, natural flavors, potassium sorbate, salt, and sulfiting agents.

– Torani Caramel Sauce – Starbucks uses this commercial brand for some stores. It’s dairy-free and contains corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, salt, artificial flavors, sucrose, potassium sorbate, and caramel color.

– Starbucks Caramel Syrup – The pumps at stores provide non-dairy caramel as an ingredient for custom drinks. It contains sugar, water, salt, natural and artificial flavors, potassium sorbate, and caramel color.

While the taste and texture may differ from the original dairy caramel, these products give vegans and lactose-intolerant customers a caramel option at Starbucks. The nutrition content is also slightly improved without the butter and cream.

Quality of Starbucks Caramel Sauce

As a large chain, Starbucks takes measures to ensure consistency and quality control across its thousands of retail locations. For caramel sauce, this means:

– Careful cooking process – Starbucks teaches employees specific temps and timing to get the same caramel result each time. Workers use timers and thermometers for accuracy.

– Standardized ingredients – All stores use the same commercial ingredients to eliminate variability in the caramel. Butter likely comes from large dairy producers and vanilla from major extract brands.

– Routine calibration – Equipment like pumps and thermometers gets regularly calibrated to dispense precise amounts of caramel.

– Refrigeration – Bottled and pumped caramel sauce is refrigerated for freshness and food safety.

– Routine testing – Samples get tested to ensure specific gravity, viscosity, micro levels, and other metrics meet specifications.

– Supplier audits – Starbucks inspects ingredient supplier facilities and processes to verify quality standards are met.

Thanks to this focus on consistency, the caramel sauce you get in your Starbucks drink should taste the same regardless of location. The flavor you know and love does not vary.

Price of Starbucks Caramel Sauce

The price of adding caramel sauce to your Starbucks beverage depends on the size of the drink and number of pumps or scoops. A few key points on Starbucks caramel pricing:

– $0.60-0.80 per pump – Starbucks typically charges between $0.60 to $0.80 for each full pump of caramel sauce added to a drink. Pumps dispense 0.5 fluid ounces.

– $0.10 per scoop – For larger Frappuccinos, ask for caramel sauce to be scooped rather than pumped. Each scoop costs around $0.10 extra.

– More for larger sizes – A larger size drink might get 3-5 pumps versus 1-2 for a small, so the caramel costs more for a venti versus tall.

– Sauces cost more – Getting caramel drizzle or the bottled sauce costs more than pumps or scoops. Sauces are typically $0.50-$1.00 extra per serving.

– Regional variability – Pricing ultimately depends on geographic location. Some cities or stores may charge slightly more or less for caramel customizations.

– Limited time discounts – Starbucks sometimes offers seasonal promotions for free or lower cost pumps of syrup or sauce. But regular menu prices usually apply.

So while delicious, adding those extra caramel swirls does increase the total cost of your Starbucks drink purchase. For caramel lovers, it may be worth the price to get that perfect sweetness in every sip.

Is the Caramel Sauce Healthy?

Starbucks caramel sauce is inherently high in sugar and low in nutrients given its ingredient makeup of mainly butter, cream, and sugar. A 3 tablespoon serving contains 23g of sugar – nearly the entire recommended daily allotment of 25g for women. Calories add up quickly if you consume multiple servings.

However, caramel sauce can be enjoyed as part of an overall balanced diet, in moderation. Having a caramel latte as an occasional treat is unlikely to negatively impact your health. Added sugars and saturated fat from the caramel provide enjoyment that is fine in reasonable amounts.

Ways to make your Starbucks caramel drink healthier include:

– Opt for sugar-free flavors to cut unnecessary added sugar.
– Choose nonfat or low-fat milk to limit saturated fat intake.
– Ask for fewer pumps/scoops of caramel to reduce calories and sugar.
– Select a smaller drink size so you get less total caramel per serving.
– Increase nutritional value by adding protein powder or fiber.
– Balance it out with healthier choices the rest of the day.

As with any indulgent food, awareness and moderation are key to incorporating Starbucks caramel into your diet in a healthy way. Be mindful of portions and enjoy your caramel coffee in balance.


Starbucks famous caramel sauce contains just a few simple ingredients – sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla. But when combined through an exact cooking process, these ingredients create the delicious caramel flavor Starbucks is known for. Quality and consistency ensure you’ll get the same indulgent taste with every sip, whether drizzled, pumped, or swirled into your favorite Starbucks coffee drink. So next time you order a caramel macchiato or other caramel-flavored beverage, you’ll know the key components that went into crafting Starbucks’ crave-worthy caramel.

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