What does Dunkin Donuts use for caramel swirl?

Dunkin’ Donuts is known for its wide variety of donuts, coffees, and other baked goods. One of their most popular menu items is the caramel swirl, a rich caramel-flavored syrup that can be added to drinks like coffee, espresso, and lattes. But what exactly goes into making the sweet, gooey caramel swirl that Dunkin’ Donuts customers have come to love?

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the ingredients used to make Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. We’ll examine how it’s produced, where the ingredients come from, and what makes this caramel swirl different from others on the market. Whether you’re a die-hard Dunkin’ fan or just generally curious about how large food corporations manufacture products at scale, read on to learn all about the components that give Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl its distinctive flavor and texture.

Main Ingredients

The primary ingredients used to make Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl are:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Sweetened condensed skim milk
  • Water
  • Palm oil
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Mono and diglycerides
  • Salt
  • Caramel color

Let’s take a closer look at each of these key ingredients and why they are used to produce the Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the main ingredients used to sweeten Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. HFCS is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch that has had some of its glucose converted into fructose. The fructose content gives HFCS a very sweet taste. In caramel swirl, the high fructose corn syrup provides a smooth, sweet flavor that complements the taste of the caramelized sugar.

Corn Syrup

In addition to HFCS, regular corn syrup is also used in Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. Corn syrup is made from cornstarch and contains glucose. It is used as a thickener and sweetener in the caramel swirl to give it a viscous, smooth texture and sweet flavor. The corn syrup balances out the texture and taste provided by the HFCS.

Sweetened Condensed Skim Milk

Sweetened condensed skim milk is key for giving Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl its characteristically thick, creamy texture. Condensed milk contains milk proteins and natural sugars condensed down to a very thick, syrupy state. When combined with the other ingredients like corn syrup and palm oil, the sweetened condensed skim milk gives the caramel swirl a rich, decadent mouthfeel.


Water may seem like a basic ingredient, but it serves multiple important purposes in Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. First, it helps thin out the very viscous condensed milk and corn syrups. Water also dissolves the sugar and helps incorporate the other ingredients together into a homogenous, fluid swirl. The right ratio of water to the thicker ingredients is crucial for achieving the perfect flowable consistency.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is added to Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl to contribute smoothness and body. As a semi-solid vegetable oil, palm oil gives the caramel swirl a rich, round mouthfeel. It enhances the viscosity to prevent the swirl from being too thin or runny. A touch of palm oil goes a long way in giving Dunkin’ caramel swirl the ideal thickness and lubricious texture customers expect.

Natural and Artificial Flavors

To give Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl its quintessential caramel profile, both natural and artificial flavors are incorporated. Natural flavors like vanilla extract or vanilla beans provide aromatic compounds that replicate the taste of real caramelized sugar. Artificial flavors augment the natural caramel and butter notes. In combination, these natural and artificial flavors deliver the sweet, buttery, slightly burnt caramel flavors people love.

Mono and Diglycerides

Mono and diglycerides are added to further enhance the consistency and texture of Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. These chemical emulsifiers help evenly distribute the water phase and the fat phase to prevent separation. This results in a smooth, homogeneous caramel swirl that incorporates seamlessly into beverages.


A small amount of salt is used when making Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl. Salt helps balance out the sweetness and accentuates the caramel flavors. Without a touch of salt, the caramel swirl would taste flat and one-dimensional. Properly seasoned with salt, it has a layered, nuanced flavor.

Caramel Color

For an authentic, appealing caramel color, Dunkin’ Donuts uses caramel coloring in their swirl. Caramel color provides the distinctive dark golden brown hue consumers expect from caramel. Natural browning during cooking provides some color, but caramel coloring ensures each batch has a uniform, rich color.

Production Process

Now that we’ve looked at what goes into Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl, let’s examine how all those ingredients come together through the manufacturing process:


First, the liquid ingredients like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, condensed milk, and water are loaded into large stainless steel mixing tanks. The wet ingredients are blended together until smooth and uniform.


Next, the mixture is pumped into continuous cookers and brought up to temperatures between 240-280°F. Heating causes the sugars to caramelize and alters the molecular structure of the milk proteins, producing that recognizable caramel flavor.


The mixture then goes through high-pressure homogenization. This uses intense pressure to break down fat globules and evenly distribute them, creating a stable emulsion. Homogenization prevents separation of the fats and liquids.


Natural and artificial flavors, salt, and caramel coloring are added at this stage while the mixture is still hot. Adding flavors once the caramel is cooked allows them to fully infuse throughout.

Cooling and Storage

Finally, the caramel swirl moves through cooling tanks to bring it down to room temperature before being pumped into storage tanks. It is kept refrigerated until being shipped out to Dunkin’ Donut retail locations.

Quality Control

Dunkin’ Brands has rigorous quality control measures in place at their caramel swirl manufacturing facilities. This ensures each batch meets specifications and provides a consistent product:

– Ingredient suppliers are audited to verify quality standards
– Mixing and cooking processes are computer-controlled for precision
– Samples are pulled and tested to confirm Brix measurements (sugar content)
– Microbial testing is conducted for food safety
– Viscosity is measured to check consistency and mouthfeel
– Color and flavor profiles are evaluated by tasting panels
– Packaging is checked for proper sealing before shipping

By conducting numerous quality checks throughout production, Dunkin’ is able to deliver a reliable, premium caramel swirl to their restaurants. Customers can be confident that every sip will have the same balanced sweetness and smooth, creamy texture.

Storage and Shelflife

Once packaged, Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl is shipped to retail locations in plastic gallon jugs. The caramel swirl typically arrives refrigerated by truck and can be stored refrigerated for up to 4 months. The thick, emulsified formula prevents water separation or fat breakdown during storage. Opened jugs and dispenser units are discarded after 14 days. By properly storing and rotating stock, restaurants can poured great tasting swirls up until the use by date.

Nutrition Facts

Like most caramel sauces, Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl is high in sugar and carbohydrates. A 2 tablespoon (30mL) serving contains:

Calories 110
Total Fat 0g
Sodium 65mg
Total Carbs 27g
Sugars 27g

It also provides some calcium and vitamin A from the sweetened condensed milk. But overall, the Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl offers little additional nutritional value beyond the high sugar content. It should be enjoyed in moderation as an occasional sweet treat.

Uses in Dunkin’ Products

Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants use the caramel swirl in a variety of beverages and treats. Some of the most popular ways to enjoy it include:

Caramel Iced Coffee

A classic combination, adding caramel swirl to iced coffee provides a boost of sweetness that contrasts nicely with the bitter coffee. The caramel swirl dissolved into the cold coffee gives each sip a smooth, creamy, candied flavor.

Caramel Lattes and Macchiatos

Espresso drinks are complemented by the buttery taste and lush mouthfeel of caramel swirl. A pump or two of swirl blended into steamed milk makes a perfect caramel latte or macchiato.

Caramel Iced Cappuccino

Cappuccinos topped with cold foamed milk get even more indulgent with a drizzle of Dunkin’ caramel swirl. The swirl adds texture and rich caramel notes that enhance the multilayered cappuccino.

Caramel iced tea

For a creative spin on classic iced tea, adding caramel swirl makes a sweet flavored drink that goes down smooth. The caramel provides a new depth of flavor to brisk iced tea.

Caramel donut topping

What could be better on donuts than a generous drizzle of caramel swirl? Dunked over your favorite donut, it provides extra sweetness in every bite.

Consumer Reviews

Dunkin’ Donuts customers clearly love the caramel swirl added to drinks and donuts. Here are just a few reviews reflecting the overwhelmingly positive feedback:

Five Stars

“The caramel swirl is one of the main reasons I’m addicted to Dunkin’ Donuts’ iced coffee! It’s just the right amount of sweetness and pairs perfectly with the coffee. I always ask for extra swirl.”

Sweet, Smooth, and Delicious

“Whether I get it in my latte or on top of a donut, I can’t get enough of Dunkin’s caramel swirl! It has such a wonderful thick and creamy texture that I haven’t found in other caramel sauces. The flavor is also spot on – sweet but with great caramel taste.”

Elevates Every Drink

“Dunkin’ caramel swirl is next level compared to the premade stuff you buy at the grocery store. You can really taste the difference in quality. Just a bit of swirl takes any boring coffee drink and makes it 10x better!”


Dunkin’ Donuts caramel swirl has earned a cult following for good reason. Made from a straightforward but carefully crafted combination of corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, flavors, and emulsifiers, it has an irresistible texture and flavor. The quality control checks ensure optimal sweetness, thickness, and taste batch after batch. Added to coffees, espresso drinks, and donuts, Dunkin’s signature caramel swirl makes any menu item more indulgent. Next time you order at Dunkin’, get it caramel swirl style – you won’t regret it!

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