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Caramel can refer to the natural flavor produced from the heating of light, refined sugar or pale imitations thereof. Caramel may be made as a sauce or candy, in a pot, or directly on food, as by applying a flame to creme brulee. Both natural caramel and butterscotch come from heating sugar, but the tastes, while similar, are distinct.

Some of the flavors of caramel come from caramelization, while, if milk proteins are mixed with it, additional depth comes from the Maillard reaction.