Black Sugar Soy Sauce Caramel

As far as dessert goes (unless we’re talking grass jelly, red bean soup, boba), I tend to keep it simple. Vanilla ice cream is a go-to, with a few slices of banana and a dollop of black sesame paste. Caramel is a new frontier for me. something I started exploring after seeing Yu Ding Xing soy sauce brewer Ozzy Hsieh mention soy sauce caramel in some of his posts. I tripped upon this wonderful concoction in my pursuit of said caramel, when I subbed Taiwanese black sugar for granulated sugar.

The recipe for soy sauce caramel is a simple modification to a typical recipe. If you already have a favorite recipe, stir in a bit of soy sauce at the end, while still warm, to create a salty and complex version of this autumn staple.  I’ll be using it to dress up this Black Sesame Pound Cake, drizzle it over poached pears, and, of course, as sauce for my favorite vanilla ice cream.

To make the black sugar version, replace the granulated sugar with Taiwanese black sugar (closely related to Okinawan black sugar), which has more of a molasses flavor and is less sweet. The result is a deeply flavored caramel, with notes of molasses and  bubble tea (black sugar is often used in the syrup). The black sugar, made from sugarcane, isn’t refined and there are many minerals and nutrients still left in it; the texture is quite grainy. Depending on the brand of black sugar you use, crystallization may be difficult to avoid, and the resulting caramel, especially if this is your first time making caramel. The crystals fall to the bottom so can easily be avoided when serving; don't despair. 

This caramel is very richly flavored and quite salty. It's beautiful for adding complexity to sweet desserts as a drizzle, but may not be suitable for every purpose, such as caramel candies or blended drinks.

Though I looked far and wide, I wasn’t able to find any black sugar caramel recipes. I know I’m not the first one to have had the idea, as I did find these Morinaga brand black sugar caramels (that I will  be on the hunt for the next time I go to Taiwan).

It keeps really well in the fridge. It’s very viscous at low temperatures. To use, gently warm it (in its container) in a water bath, or let it sit out on your counter for a few hours.

Black Sugar Soy Sauce Caramel Sauce by Lisa Cheng Smith



  1. Cut the butter into 6-8 chunks of similar size. Warm the cream. It doesn't need to be piping hot, just warm.  
  2. Turn on your burner to medium and preheat warm a small saucepan (don't use nonstick).  If the pan is too big, it will be hard to heat the sugar evenly and whisk quickly enough. Once the pan is warm (again, doesn't need to be smoking hot, just warm), add the sugar and let it melt, stirring a few times to ensure the heating is even. It may take a few minutes to see signs of melting. Once melting starts, the sugar transforms quickly, going from granular to clumpy to stretchy to liquid. 
  3. Once the sugar is melted (changed from a stretchy gummy phase to a more liquid one), it will have already caramelized enough, as the sugar is already so dark. At this point, add in your chunks of butter and whisk like mad, incorporating the butter when it melts. If the butter is reluctant to incorporate, remove from heat and keep whisking. It will eventually combine.
  4. Once the butter is incorporated, Slowly stir in your warmed cream. Please add this in slowly, while whisking. If you dump it all in, it wi ll bubble up and create steam and splashes, potentially burning you. Whisk vigorously as you go.
  5. Once the bubbles subside, whisk in your soy sauce. You can add one tablespoon at a time, so you can adjust to taste. Stop there or reduce and cook a bit longer until your desired color is achieved (don't burn it!) If using immediately, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.  Otherwise store in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer up to 3 months. Let it come to room temperature before using. 

 Recipe photo and styling by Off Hour Studio.