5 Ingredients or Fewer

Whey Caramel

June 13, 2021
8 Ratings
Photo by Mia
  • Makes 3 Cups
Author Notes

Lately I have been making a lot of ricotta from fresh whole milk, which results in a lot of leftover whey. Too much whey to know what to do with. My freezer has become a stockpile of whey, and most of the ideas out there for using it up, only call for a little bit. lacto-fermentation, and adding whey to your beans while soaking are great ideas, but I would need to eat a lot of beans to use up all my whey. So when a friend told me that she had heard you can make caramel from whey, I got to work. This was the perfect whey (haha)! It seemed like it would work the same as making dulce de leche, which is just slow cooking milk and sugar- instead of whole milk I would use whey.
The result was a smooth, thick and tangy caramel, with a viscosity similar to a heavy molasses. Perfect for using in baked goods, dumping on ice cream, and eating by the spoonful.
This recipe does take a long time to make, but much of it is hands off, and it’s not as sensitive as making caramel the traditional way- which I usually end up burning or impatiently stirring before the sugar melts, making a chunky mess. —Mia

What You'll Need
  • 2 quarts Whey
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 4 ounces Butter
  • 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Hefty pinch of salt- I used flaky
  1. Simmer the whey in a heavy bottom pot on medium until it reduces by about half. Skim the foam off the top if needed. You could probably do this part at a higher temperature while keeping a close eye on it and stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch. I like the hands off factor of this recipe, so once I got it to a slow simmer I walked away from it for an hour.
  2. After about 1- 1 1/2 hours your whey should be reduced by half and you can add the cane sugar. Stir it until the sugar is melted and it comes back to a simmer.
  3. Leave it again to simmer and caramelize. Check on it periodically to stir and assess the progress. Once you add the sugar, the caramelization process will take just over an hour.
  4. As it cooks down and caramelizes it will start to bubble and foam, keep it going on low and keep an eye on the color. Once the color is a medium-dark amber (your preference) and the viscosity looks like syrup add the cold butter and stir as it melts, continue to stir until the butter is completely mixed in.
  5. Add salt and vanilla extract.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Edie Irwin
    Edie Irwin
  • David R. Moore
    David R. Moore
  • Kim Thomas
    Kim Thomas
  • Lynnea Gay
    Lynnea Gay
  • Stephanie Sapuppo
    Stephanie Sapuppo

19 Reviews

olevia December 21, 2023
I am going to try this tonight. Also, just as an FYI, I love using whey to make bone broth in my pressure cooker. Usually, I put 1 1/2 to 2 Cups of whey and 2 cups of vegetable, chicken broth, or water in my Instapot; add then I add 5-7 chicken thighs with the skin on, the bottom of a celery stalk along with some onions, peppercorns, etc, Then cook for about 23 minutes (frozen chicken). When the time is up, I discard the vegetables, strain the broth into a bowl, and then remove the chicken meat. The broth is placed back into the instapot along with the bones and skin. I then cook these for another 45 minutes to remove as much of the bone marrow as I can (it helps to break the bones in half before the second cook). When finished cooking I strain out the bones and skin and pour the broth into a couple of mason jars. When the broth is cooled, I squeeze a fresh lemon and add any other spice I think it might need. A big favorite in my home.
KimChancy November 11, 2023
Shelf life, refrigerate, can ???
Laurie K. November 2, 2022
I had to sign up to leave a review . This is amazing. I was a huge hit last night with homemade Greek yogurt (and vanilla ice cream for people who don't eat yogurt) and this amazing carmel sauce. "This is decadent good," I heard. Thank you!
Stephf October 17, 2022
Simmering sweet whey to try this out! How do I store the finished caramel (assuming that may be necessary)? Thanks!
Cathy W. August 10, 2023
I wás told by a friend she canned it!
anw64681 May 19, 2022
so thankful i found this recipe! like the author, i can only use up so much whey before it goes bad, so i gave this a whirl. the tang from the whey added another fun dimension to this, and this just begs to be drizzled atop vanilla ice cream with some flaky maldon on top! i ended up adding some cream to the caramel when it was done so it was more spreadable (it's a little stiff right now), but still very delicious.
Edie I. June 13, 2021
Amazing! I is the best caramel I’ve ever made. I love the tang and it was so easy. Time on the back burner is not hard. I just set a timer and checked it hourly. I too got curds from the whey but i guess it’s easy to strain while it’s hot if they bother me.
David R. March 4, 2021
I was doubtful about this recipe, but I had a lot of whey to use up. It wasn’t fast, but it turned out very good!
Laura A. November 12, 2020
Had Whey left over from making a large batch of yogurt. I decided to 1/2 the recipe to do a test batch. Yes it's a bit of time on the stove boiling it down but it is not labor intensive. And the resulting caramel is SO YUMMY.....the tang, that extra layer of flavor is what makes this caramel unique. I had a branny smith apple on the counter and as soon as the caramel was cool enough I was dipping slices of apple into a small bowl of it...what an amazing flavor combo that was. I can picture making a full batch, and dipping granny smith apples for a whey covered granny smith apple!!!! And tomorrow definitely making pancakes for breakfast as that is a family favorite, pancakes with caramel instead of maple syrup!!!!!
Kim T. September 21, 2020
I have lots of whey when I make cream cheese from my homemade yogurt. Today I made your carmel with the whey I usually throw away. It passed my son's taste test. Then it passes my husband's taste test. I put a little vanilla ice cream in the taste test bowl and it is excellent! Thank you.
Lynnea G. June 19, 2020
So I'm making this recipe right now and little curds have formed in the whey. Should I strain them out or is this normal?
Stephanie S. May 14, 2020
OMG, this caramel was soooo amazing, I could cry. Worth every minute.
Anne July 28, 2018
I just made this today with whey leftover from making yogurt. Absolutely out of this world good. I had 1 quart of whey and I added 3/4 cups of sugar. The perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess. Thanks for the idea and the recipe!
Barbara May 25, 2017
Do you think this would work with the why drained from yogurt?
Laurie K. November 2, 2022
It does!
manderjoy May 5, 2017
Does it really seem worth it to you? I'm not being patronizing, I'm being serious. I've done this before, and it took sooo long that I wondered if the energy I consumed reducing it wasn't worth the intentioned frugality of using up my whey.
Mia May 5, 2017
I do! Because as long as you're at home, you really don't have to do anything to this recipe until the last 20 minutes or so, which is about the same time it would take you to make a regular caramel. The results, in my opinion, have a more unique flavor and better consistency than what I get from regular techniques.
manderjoy May 7, 2017
Well cool! I make like a dozen different kinds of cheeses and always have whey too much whey...it's like literally the only thing I throw awhey sometimes. I will have to revisit the concept and give your recipe a new try. Thanks!
Jude May 4, 2017
I'll have to try this! I don't make paneer (what you called ricotta - true ricotta is made with whey from regular cheese-making) as much as you. I use my whey in baking but the idea of tangy caramel sounds too good to pass. Thanks for the article and recipe