Caramel Color: What is and why are there four classes? 

Caramel color is a group of golden to dark brown food colorings that are created through the controlled heating of sugars from sources such as corn, wheat, and sugar beet. Approved food-grade reactants, such as alkalis, acids, or salts, are used to promote caramelization. 

 The type of reactant also determines what class the caramel color will fall into: E150a, E150b, E150c, and E150dEach class of caramel color varies slightly with different specifications on color intensity and hue, however, caramel color generally has excellent stability and works in many different applications.

Class I Caramel Color, E150a 

Class I caramel colors, also known as plain caramels, are created by cooking a carbohydrate, typically glucose or sucrose, witacids, bases, or salts – such as citric acid. These caramels range in hue from yellow to red-brown and have a slight negative colloidal charge.  

 While most class I caramels are only stable above pH 3.0, some class I caramel colors are stable down to pH 2.8. They do not contain 4-MeI or sulfites and have the highest stability in alcohol compared to other classes of caramels.  

 Class II Caramel Color, E150b 

Class II caramel colors, or spirit caramels, are created by cooking a carbohydrate with the aid of food grade sulfites. The hues can range from very yellow to dark red-brown and most are stable above pH 3.0. Class II caramels have a negative colloidal charge 

 Like class I caramels, this class does not contain 4-MeI. They exhibit good stability in alcohol and are most commonly used in cognac, sherry, and brandy, giving them the name “spirit caramels”.  

 Class III Caramel Color, E150c 

Class III caramel colors are also called ‘beer caramels’ created through the controlled heating of carbohydrate sources with food grade ammonium compounds. The resulting color ranges from a light brown to dark red-brown 

 Class III Caramel Colors do not contain sulfites and have a positive colloidal charge in most food applications. They are typically beer stable and salt stable, making them suitable for savory applications.  

 Class IV Caramel Color, E150d 

Class IV caramel color is the most widely used and versatile of the caramel colors. It is created by cooking a carbohydrate with food grade ammonium and sulfite compounds. The color ranges from a light brown to deep black-browns. Class IV caramels exhibit a strong negative charge over a wide pH range, making them the most versatile caramel colors. They are widely used in the soft drink industry due to their low dosage requirements and acid stability. DDW offers single strength, double strength, and low 4-MeI versions.

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Interested in learning more about caramel colors? Check out these resources: 

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