Is it caramel or carmel? To find the definitive answer, we’re delving deeper into this sticky issue with The great caramel vs. carmel debate.
I always feel I am saying it wrong when ordering my Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks.
And no matter which pronunciation I use, the next person in line will invariably say it the other way.
How Do You Spell Caramel?
Chances are you’ve seen both spellings used interchangeably without much thought.
So, which is it? How do you actually spell caramel?
Regarding spelling, “caramel” is the crystalline, sugary substance used as an ingredient in cooking and baking or eaten by itself as a sweet treat.
“Carmel” is a totally different thing – a proper noun referring to a place in California or a mountain in Israel.
The word “carmel” never refers to a food item, and if you write with a lowercase “c,” your computer’s spell-check will flag it.
Some accounts suggest that the most basic form of caramel was first made by the Arabic nation in 1,000 AD by mixing sugar and water to form a crystallized, hardened form of candy.
They were called “kora-moħalláh,” which translates to “ball of sweet.”
The chewy candies we think of today originated in the 17th century and were made by boiling a mixture of milk or cream, sugar, glucose, butter, and vanilla.
The word “caramel” originated in 17th-century France, but its etymology traces back to the Spanish or Portuguese word “caramelo.”
In addition to referring to the chewy toffee candy, the noun caramel has two other definitions:
(1) the sweet substance made by heating sugar or syrup until it turns brown, usually used as flavoring or coloring for food or, (2) the color of caramel, light brown.
How To Pronounce Caramel vs. Carmel
While the answer to the spelling question is definitive, the pronunciation question is up in the air.
The top American English dictionaries offer three variations: ˈkär-məl ; ˈker-ə-məl , ˈka-rə-, -ˌmel.
So technically, you can pronounce it any way you’d like.
However, that’s not without debate. Some argue that because the word has three syllables, it should be pronounced with three syllables.
The most common North American pronunciation is the two-syllable variation.
One linguistics expert found that the two-syllable pronunciation (car-muhl) is most likely to be heard in the Western, Southwestern, and Midwestern U.S. states.
Still, caramel with three syllables (care-a-muhl and care-a-melle) is more likely to be heard on the East Coast and Southeast.
If you’re in the U.K., you’ll likely hear it pronounced with more emphasis on the “care” part of the word and say “care-a-muhl.”
Caramel or Carmel Summary
So next time you’re at Starbucks or Dunkin’, know whether you ask for a “car-muhl” macchiato or a “care-a-muhl” one, you won’t be wrong.