What is Caramelization?
Caramelization is a classic cooking technique for developing flavor. As defined in On Cooking, caramelization is “the process of cooking sugars. [This] is responsible for most flavors we associate with cooking”. Caramelization is used on fruits and vegetables to extract sweetness It also helps achieve a darker, more golden color. Similarly, caramelization is also responsible for the sweetness and browning of baked goods.
Traditionally, some sort of fat (whether it’s oil or butter) is used to help with caramelization. This fat adds richness. Yet it also acts a buffer to prevent foods from burning. The key to caramelizing is to get as much sweetness as possible – without letting your food burn.
How to Caramelize without Oil or Butter?
But you know me. I’m on a mission to cook without any refined fat like oil or butter. Here are some healthy tips to caramelize without oil or butter:
- Keep your heat low and slow. This will allow you to get the most sweetness and beautiful golden color without the risk of burning.
- Add a pinch of salt. At the beginning of cooking, adding a pinch of salt will help extract some of the moisture from your food. This will help prevent burning. It will also help intensify the flavor. You can use other salty condiments for the same effect. Soy sauce, miso paste, and mustard would all work.
- Use water as a buffer to prevent burning. If your food is turning dark too fast, add a splash of water. Reduce the heat. The water will help slow the cooking.
What’s the Best Ingredient to Try Caramelizing?
The best ingredient to try caramelizing? Sweet onions. They have plenty of natural sweetness which lends them to healthy flavor. They also go on just about anything. Use them on Twice-Baked Smoky, Cheezy Stuffed Potatoes or over Ultimate Vegan Portobello Mushroom Burgers.
Watch the Cooking Video:
Get the Recipe:
Oil-Free Caramelized Sweet Onions
Caramelization is a classic cooking technique for naturally developing sweet flavor. This healthy vegan recipe shows you how to caramelize onions without any oil or butter. Use this vegan condiment to top Ultimate Portobello Mushroom Burgers, Whole Wheat Flatbread, or on Twice-Baked Smokey Cheezy Stuffed Potatoes.
Easy | Servings: 4| Ready
in: 75 minutes | Yield: about 1 cup
- 2 Sweet Onions, thinly sliced into half moons
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
How It’s Done:
To make the Oil-Free Caramelized Sweet Onions: Place the onions and thyme in a wide pan, without any oil, over medium-low heat. Add the salt to help draw out the moisture from the onions.
After about 30 minutes, the onions will start to brown and caramelize. Start stirring at this point. Stirring every 7 minutes or so, to ensure even browning.
After about an hour, the onions will be golden brown and caramelized. They should have a jam-like consistency. Add the balsamic and a couple of tablespoons of water. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pan. Taste to adjust seasoning and serve.
Chef Katie’s Tips:
Sweet Onion Varieties: Use a sweet onion like Walla Walla or Vidalia for this recipe. The different varieties get their names from the area in which they’re grown. Walla Walla
Pink and Purple: For a pop of color, use a red or purple variety of sweet onion like Tropea. To highlight the pink color, add a splash of red wine vinegar or Sherry vinegar instead of the balsamic.