What's the difference between butterscotch and caramel?

The question is pretty self-explanatory. Is butterscotch just a particular type of caramel? There are all different kinds of things that are called caramel, so what’s the difference?

Well, one of the chickies at DairyQueen told me that butterscotch is served hot while caramel is served cold, so I guess in the world of soft-serve, that’s the difference.


I have recipes for both butterscotch candies and caramels.

The diffence between the two is that butterscotch is basically sugar, a little butter and a little water. Generally, what you use to make a basic caramel sauce, but butterscotch is usually cooked a little longer to get a different consistency and hardness.

Caramels are basically sugar, a little butter, cream and corn syrup.

Butterscotch is normally never flavored, but caramels can be flavored with all kinds of stuff: Vanilla, maple, chocolate, almond, etc.

They are very similar, but they do taste different when you make them. I don’t know if there is an accepted difference between the two, but hope that helps.

To make caramel, you need to heat the sugar until it … caramelizes. And caramel usually doesn’t have butter in it.

A friend of mine made what he called caramel by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a large pot of water for about two hours. To my surprised relief, the can didn’t burst. The contents did taste like caramel.

I’ve done that with the sweetened condensed milk, but I wouldn’t quite call the results caramel. And no, the can won’t burst.

I believe butterscotch is made with molasses & butter, where as caramel is made from granulated white sugar (that has been caramelized) and butter.

Whatever the process, they are certainly two very distinctly flavors.

Basically, the only difference I can see when I’m putting them on sundaes is as follows:

  1. Butterscotch is yellow, and caramel is tan.
  2. Caramel is thicker than butterscotch.
  3. Butterscotch comes in small bins and caramel comes in big bins.
  4. Butterscotch is ladled and caramel is pumped.


Okay I got off my butt and checked my cook’s encyclopedia.

Sigh. So now I guess we need to know what toffee is.


And flipping through my candy cookbooks, it looks like you can get a wide variety of flavors from sugar & water, depending on how long & at what temperature you cook it.

I think they taste different.
But I also think that Dr. Pepper tastes like cherry-rootbeer. Hmm…

Hmmm…so it seems that my surmise is correct. “Caramel” refers to any substance that contains heated, browned sugar. It seems to me that Butterscotch is simply a subset of the caramel rainbow.

Butterscotch is sort of sweeter, I think. But Caramel is richer.


What is the difference between “Car-Mel” and “Care-a-mel”?

Well, Carmel is a town in California. Famous for its former mayor, Clint Eastwood. The photographer Ansel Adams also used to live there.

But that’s probably way off topic…

Probably just another one of those amusing Anglo-American terminology mix-ups, but it sounds to me like you’re talking about butterscotch sauce and caramel sauce - butterscotch is a hard, crunchy thing (similar to the centre of Dime/Daim bars, caramel is a soft chewy toffee-like thing.

No, caramel is made with burned (browned, if you prefer) sugar, while butterscotch is made with brown sugar, which is white sugar mixed with molasses. Not the same thing at all.

This was discussed in About This Message Board of all places. See the thread: So, the maintainance…


I don’t think brown v. white sugar has much to do with it; the Oxford Companion to Food (Davidson, 1999) focuses on the texture:

Caramel a food product used both as a brown colouring and for its bitter-sweet flavour, is produced in the final stage of sugar boiling when sugar is heated above 170 C(340 F). The exact temperature at which caramel begins to form depends on the composition of the sugar…[discussion of caramelizing in other foods, such as vegetables] caramel colouring has several uses [such as]…gravy browning…Caramel is used extensively in confectionary…[most familiarly] as meaning a kind of toffee. Caramels and toffee are based on similar recipes, using sugar syrup enriched with milk, butter or cream, and the choice of name for a particular confection in this category may appear arbitrary. This is recognized by confectioners, and stated i Skuse’s Complete Confectioner (13th edn, 1957): "The difference between toffee and caramel is essentially one of texture and the two types of confection merge into one another without any clear dividing line. **Toffee should be hard, ‘chewy’, unlike butterscotch which is hard and brittle; caramel is soft-eating with a clean fracture.’

That clear :D?

I don’t think you can label either one a health food, can you? :smiley:

Evidently, if a can of sweetened condensed milk is left alone long enough, it will turn into a caramel-like substance on its own. Being in a house with no A/C probably sped up the process.

Isn’t “sweetened condensed milk” a redundancy? If it’s not sweetened, it’s not condensed, but evaporated.