The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help! - Need a substitue for caramel color

Trishinomaha's picture

Help! - Need a substitue for caramel color

Until about a half an hour ago I'd never heard of the ingredient caramel color. KA Flour carrys it and it's called for in a pumpernickle bread recipe I want to try today. I'm going to check whole foods but am at a loss for any other local source here in Omaha. Does anybody have an idea what I could use as a substitute? It calls for 1 and 1/2 tablespoons. The recipe, btw, is from the new "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" book. I'm going to try a few recipes from it during this long week-end. It's going to be cold and snowy here - a perfect week in for a rustic veggie soup and some bread for dinner-


edh's picture

I don't know if it's a substitute exactly, but some pumpernickel recipes call for cocoa powder to provide the dark color. In BBA, Reinhart calls for 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, or 1 tsp of caramel coloring.

Hope it helps!


Trishinomaha's picture

This recipe calls for both - I was wondering if I could substitute malt powder - I have some of that on hand. I suppose it's obviously more for coloring than anything and would not really affect the taste?

colinwhipple's picture

I have a KA recipe for restaurant-style dinner rolls which calls for honey and caramel color.  I substituted molsses for the two of them, and they came out fine.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Trish.

Now, this is a true emergency! I hope I can help.

The 3 common coloring agents for pumpernickel are: Caramel coloring, cocoa powder and instant espresso. Malt would make a darker crust and add more sweetness than you might want. There was a Julia Child Baking PBS program on Jewish Pumpernickel. The baker, whose name I cannot recall, used all 3 of the colorings I mentioned plus a couple of others, including pureed prunes!

Of course, you could make your own caramel coloring. Greenstein gives the recipe in "Secrets of a Jewish Baker." In the interest of keeping you from venturing out in your nasty weather, here it is:

"Pumpernickel Color"

3 T sugar
1T water
Pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup boiling water

"In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the sugar in the tablespoon of water. Increast the heat to medium-high, cover the pan, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Add the cream of tartar and continue to boil, uncovered, until the sugar is almost black in color. Remove the pan from the heat. The sugar will continue cook and darken. Allow it to begin to cool. Using extreme care, add the boiling water (the sugar will boil up and may splatter). Stir to disolve, then let cool to room temperature.

Whenever you use pumpernickel color, wet the measuring spoon or cup with cold wter for easier cleanup. Soaking the saucepan and the utensils in hot water will dissolve the caramelized sugar remaining on them."

Greenstein does say that you generally add about 2 Tablespoons of this per 1 1/2 lb loaf and that you can substitute an equal measure of molasses or instant coffee.

In the interest of full disclosure, the role of the coloring agent, whichever one you choose, is ... ta tah ... to color the bread. If you leave it out, as I generally do, you have the same bread, just not as dark in color.


jhertz10's picture

Hi Trish, it's Jeff Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."  David beat me to the answer... you can make your own caramel color using Greenstein's recipe, but it will be liquid which throws you off a bit.

But I don't quite agree about the flavor question.  I found that caramel color is pretty bitter and it imparts that to traditional pumpernickel bread.  So I do think it adds something.  And we also call for coffee powder and cocoa.

Honestly, try our rye bread first... less involved and still pretty satisfying.

Jeff Hertzberg         


BALC's picture

Jeff,  I own your book Artisan Bread In Five Minutes. I  would like to make the pumpernickel bread in this book. However, the caramel coloring is a small issue, currently.  If I make my own in liquid form, how much do I use in order to equal your dry version?  By the way, I love this book! i have truly made some wonderful breads from it.


Trishinomaha's picture

David and I loved the Pumpernickle. We had bought some really good european butter (a splurge for us) for the holidays and had a slice of the bread with that last night when it was just still slightly warm. I am going to order some caramel color from KA Flour. This bread is so easy we will be baking it often so I'd like to try the recipe as written. I did have cocoa and expresso powder on hand. I have the Italian semolina chilling right now and will bake it later today. Your book truly makes good bread accessable to all. I can't wait to try more recipes.


judy's picture

I just made the Dark Pumpernickel Bread (for the bread machine but worked great with my Kitchen Aid) yesterday and it came out very dark. It uses cocoa powder, molasses, brown sugar and instant coffee granules. It calls for white, w wheat and dark rye flour but I also used some dark pumpernickel meal. Very yummy!

Here's the link:


Trishinomaha's picture

Lots of good ideas here - we are definately having Rubens tonight!' Elise at has a dynomite recipe for these.


jlc's picture

I had just googled "substitute for caramel coloring" for the very same recipe when I found this thread--along with Jeff's entry. I've met Jeff through my sister-in-law, and he's a gem. And, everyone, the breads are EASY and fabulous.

Thanks for the ideas. 


suave's picture

Hamelman seems to have a very strong opinion about this one.

"An even more egregious insult to rye bread is the inappropriate use of caramel color to make something erroneously called pumpernickel bread."

nbicomputers's picture

some cake decoating suppliers have black food color or carmal color in a smal jar

the only way i klnow how to get it is by the gallon

but you could try


sharonanne's picture

   I LOVE the McCormick brand of liquid caramel color; I use it all the time, so I can personally recommend it. When you consider one loaf of black bread can cost around $4 bucks, just a few applications of the liquid could pay itself in no time; one bottle could last nearly a life-time.

   You only need 1 teaspoon liquid caramel color, per 3 cups flour, (see what I mean), whereas as said in an earlier post, powdered caramel coloring can add a bitter edge to foods, since you need 2 Tablespoons powdered color, per 3 cups flour, for the dry variety of caramel coloring.

   I’ve found the liquid also to be extremely versatile too, considering how many other applications you can use it in, just like commercial industry does... i.e. BBQ sauce, desserts, cookies, frostings, ice cream, gravies, meat fillings, soups, stews and more (see you might love it too)!

   I found my bottle in a locally owned restaurant food supply store, called Orson Gygi's ( As stated in previous post, I've also seen the McCormick brand online on just on site (see Less anyone thinks I work for any of the before mentioned companies, no I DON'T. Nor do I sell it, or anything else for that matter, I am just an avid baker and happy consumer.

  I do however have my own personal cooking site, where I love to share additional cooking tips & techniques, just for the love of doing so.-- Warmly, Sharon Anne

  P.S. Go to please do say hi, and how you came by to find me.

nbicomputers's picture

the problem with using coffee, cocoa and the other items listed is flavor.

all of the subtatites will add a flavor (maybe unwanted) to your bread.

carmal color does not cost much i am going to get a gallon from a bakery supply house will last a lifetime stored in a cool place.  you can make pumpernickel without it but it will lack that rich dark color.

jlc's picture

Since I posted this quite a while ago, it was a wonderful surprise to be notified that two people had responded to my question.


I'm really excited to try my bread, and have already ordered the caramel coloring at spice place.


Wish I could share the results with you!'s picture

I am a Chef and member of the American Culinary Federation

Carmelize corn syrup to use as carmel coloring or go to

to purchase professional coloring.

Gest Regards, Chef Shmuel

nancy58's picture

I currently use the espresso powder and carmel coloring from KA but before I purchased them I tried a "clone" recipe for OutBack's Bread, which calls for carmel coloring. Thee "clone" recipe used a concoction of a few drops of different food colorings but I felt it was to complicated. I came across "Gravy Master" in my pantry. It is a liquid, dark brown, used to deepen the color of gravy. I used that , approx. 1/2 -1 tsp depending upon how dark you wanted the dough and just cut back on the liquid in the recipe by the same amount. Gravy Master adds basically no flavor, just color. Try it if your in need.  Hope you can find a suitable substitute untill you can obtain the real ingredient.

JodyNoel's picture

I'm so glad to have found this thread. I'm actually in the process of proofing previously made dough from this exact recipe (sans coloring). I'm excited to try again with the simple method above for homemade coloring. I'm from Detroit where Pumpernickel is everywhere. Now, I'm in California, and I can't seem to find it anywhere. My attempts have been light and not quite what I'm looking for. This might do the trick. Maybe it's just psychological, but it just isn't the same unless it's truly dark!