Why You Should Try Adding Citrus To Your Caramel Sauce

There's nothing worse than a caramel sauce that tastes bitter, gets burned, or seizes up after a little too long on the stovetop. For a recipe with such simple ingredients, caramel ironically isn't foolproof. Once you get it right, however, it tastes delicious on practically any dessert, pairing just as well with both salty and sweet flavors. (Example: Caramel and chocolatey brownies go together just as great as caramel and salty popcorn.) 

And while sprinkling a bit of sea salt over the top certainly does wonders in enhancing the flavor of caramel, according to Food52, there's another ingredient that can elevate it in additional ways: citrus.

Caramel by itself is incredibly rich, so adding a hint of citrus can create a bright contrast that results in a more dynamic flavor. Food52 specifically advises adding citrus in the form of orange zest. After adding that ingredient in, it's easy to build on the flavor, the article says. "It sounds fancy, but all you have to do is follow a good caramel sauce recipe, adding 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel, and 2 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds," the website recommends, in its recipe for a delicious orange-fennel caramel sauce.

There's a science behind adding citrus to caramel

Not only does the addition of citrus result in a delicious caramel sauce, it also makes it easier to achieve a smooth texture. Fine Cooking points out that one of the most common blunders that can occur while making caramel is that the sugar within it can re-crystallize. This means that "if even one of these crystals falls back into the syrup, it can seed a chain reaction, turning the clear syrup opaque and grainy," the site warns. 

One surefire way to counteract re-crystallization is by adding an acid such as vinegar or cream of tartar. Of course, this is also where citrus comes in (and may be the most effective and best tasting option of them all), Fine Cooking explains. Lemon juice in particular breaks down the sucrose into both fructose and glucose, making recrystallization a lot harder. As it's said, baking is an exact science, and this principle applies to caramel too. 

So if you're having trouble making a caramel sauce with the perfect consistency, adding a few drops of lemon juice may be the best solution, and it'll taste pretty good too.