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.


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.


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


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.