Use an abundance of whey to make this delicious whey caramel sauce, made quite easily at home with just a few simple ingredients!
For anyone who has made their own homemade yogurt, fresh, soft cheese or even ricotta cheese, you probably know that the process results in a lot of whey.
If you are using a full gallon of raw milk to make yogurt or fresh homemade cheese, then you’ll have at least half of the milk separate into whey.
Whey lasts about 2 weeks in the fridge. The best part about having these jars of whey is that you can use for a lot of things.
Use as a marinade, in your skin care, soaking beans or soaking grains. Though I typically use it to rinse my hair every few days, it has been working wonderful on my acid-loving plants in the garden.
But since that requires so little whey, I usually have quite a bit left. One of my favorite ways to use it is to make this delicious whey caramel. Yum!
What is Whey?
Whey is the byproduct when you strain your homemade yogurt or make homemade cheese. Making fresh cheese with lemon juice or vinegar results in acidic whey, which has quite a few uses around the house (as a marinade, soaking beans and even fermentation), garden and even in your beauty routine.
Whey contains milk sugar, some minerals, and a little protein.
It contains glycolmacropeptide, which helps lower your appetite by promoting the secretion of hormone cholecystokinin – which means it helps you stay fuller, longer, without eating all too much.
If you have access to raw milk, then you can use that gallon to make your own homemade cheese or yogurt, then turn around and make ricotta, and then also use the leftover whey to make caramel sauce.
You didn’t know you could get so many uses from a gallon of raw milk – did you? ☺️
How to Make Whey Caramel
Using whey to make caramel is a fairly simple but lengthy process. All of the lactose (sugar that gives milk its sweet taste) is contained in the whey. When you cook the whey for several hours, the whey takes on a caramel flavor.
You can caramelize whey by cooking on low heat for several hours, all while stirring frequently, but the high concentration of lactose will result in a grainy whey caramel. To help battle this we add sugar as we cook the whey down – which prevents the whey caramel from becoming grainy.
If you are making caramel from sweet whey, it’s best to add a little lemon juice to prevent the sugar from crystalizing as the water evaporates. If you are using acidic whey, you shouldn’t have a problem — using whey and sugar alone will yield a fantastic result without any more acid added.
Start by adding your whey to a stockpot and simmering on low/medium for around an hour until it is reduced by almost half.
Then add the sugar and the butter, and stir frequently on low/medium until dissolved. Turn the heat up ever so slightly to medium, and keep a close eye as it starts a low boil.
I kept mine at medium, and it took around 45 minutes to get to this point – don’t walk off too far. It’s best to tackle things in the kitchen while you wait than allow it to scorch the pan.
Over time, the mixture will slowly become darker and thicker – as it thickens it will start to foam, but by stirring constantly during this stage you can keep it from foaming over the pot.
Be cautious – because it thickens so quickly and if you aren’t watching you will risk burning the caramel.
This whey caramel results in a lighter version of the thicker dulce de lech that you could use and drizzle on ice cream, drizzled on desserts or even pancakes, or gifted to neighbors for the holidays.
Refrigerate the caramel and use within 2 weeks. Once refrigerated, it will harden up – simply reheat to enjoy as pictured above.
- 2 quarts sweet or acidic whey
- 1 1/2 C. organic cane sugar
- 1 vanilla bean seeds only
- 4 oz butter
- 1/4 C. lemon juice* only if using sweet whey
- Add whey to a heavy stockpot on low/medium heat and simmer down at least 1/2 over the course of an hour. (Low and slow is better than risking it by scorching the pan on too high of a temp).
- Once reduced, add the sugar, vanilla bean seeds, butter, and lemon juice (if using sweet whey). Stir occasionally on low/medium until well combined, then slowly raise the heat to medium.
- Stir frequently, as over the next 30-45 minutes the whey will slowly start to caramelize and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Be patient because it can scorch if left unattended.
- The whey will slowly change colors and become more brown, then start to foam - continue to stir more often as it caramelizes incredibly quickly. Once it thickens to the point that it coats the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and stir as it cools.
- The whey caramel will thicken considerably as it cools.
Cover and refrigerate whey once cooled. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Alice Dean says
I collect whey as I make yogurt and have been saving it up refrigerated until I had enough to use. When you say “fresh whey” does that mean not refrigerated over 2-3 months?
Alice, you can definitely use that whey without an issue. Just keep an eye on it as it simmers down – it’ll take a few hours to reduce, but once it gets to a certain point don’t wander off too far and forget it’s on the stove. I save up my whey every week and make this caramel when I have a significant amount of whey collected. It is so good!
We are sugar free. I am currently on a camdida cleanse so even natural sugars are out. Would I be able to use stevia or swerve in place of cane sugar, do you think?
Amy, you can definitely try. I haven’t tried personally but it should work out ok 🙂
No, stevia or swerve will not caramelize.
Rosie Gagnon says
I used liquid sucralose instead of sugar, a little butter and vanilla is all, i just cooked mine a little longer. Kept stirring till I got to fudge consistency,it hardened up once cool into candy which is awesome, high protien!
Diane Redcay says
What does sweet or acidic whey mean? Can you can it for longer storage?
Sweet whey is a byproduct of rennet-based hard cheeses while acidic whey is the byproduct of cottage cheese, yogurt, etc. I haven’t tried canning this for longer storage!
Ellen A Wadsworth says
I have successfully canned it! I used a water bath for 1 hour and made sure the water didn’t get hotter than 160 degF. The butter separates out but that might be because I didn’t cook it long enough in the pot for it to thicken like molasses.
Jill Boeman says
Hi, you canned whey or the caramel? I’ve canned caramel but wanted to water bath whey as well
Thank you! I was scanning the comments hoping someone had already asked this question 🙂
I now know what to do with all my leftover whey!! Super tasty!!
Yes!!! It’s so good as well! It’s my favorite way to use leftover whey after yogurt!
Is there something else I can replace the vanilla bean with? I don’t have that.
Jessica, you can skip it altogether. Sometimes I add a tsp or two of vanilla extract as it simmers down (same time I add the sugar/butter).
I’m making this right now!! Gave it 5 stars already because ALL your recipes are amazing so I know this one will be too!!
You are so funny Carla. So glad you love that caramel. I like it too! 🙂
I ended up with about 2 cups. I used whey from yogurt so added lemon juice. The caramel has a pretty strong lemon flavor. Can I leave it out? I will eat it but my husband may not. It took 3 hours. 1 1/2 hours to cook down each time.
Yes, you can leave the lemon juice out. I don’t put it in mine because it makes it too strong. My kids eat the caramel on top of their yogurt and ice cream.
We are getting a lot of whey right now and I wondered if I can can this in small jars? Have you tried pressure canning the caramel? Can’t wait to try it!
I haven’t tried pressure canning it at all! I had so much whey for a while.. my kids eat yogurt like crazy. Back at the holidays I would save the whey and make one huge batch of whey caramel with a little vanilla extract and give as gifts to neighbors/friends. I am not sure about pressure canning it though.. you would prob want to check with Ball canning and see what they think.
My kids use this caramel on ice cream, and over the top of their yogurt.
Ellen A Wadsworth says
I tried pressure canning and it burned…got too hot. See my comments about water bath canning. I have been successful with it.
Inci Toral Manson says
Geat idea. Just wanted add in here that you can use your whey to keep your fresh cheeses longer and tastier, such as feta, mozzerella, ricotta and halloumi. Put your cheese in a deep container and add whey to the container enough to cover your cheese. Close the container with its lid and place it into your fidge. You can keep your cheeses about a week with the same whey, after that replace the whey with a new batch. The cheeses will keep their form (hardiness or softness) and get even tastier. Keep them this way by renewing the way until they are finished. This process will also reduced the amount of salt in the cheese, so if you prefer to keep the salt, add a couple of tsp fulls of salt into the container.
You sure can! I use it to keep my mozzarella fresh too!
Looking forward to trying this recipe. Since this is a slow process has anyone used a crock pot? If possible?
Linda, I haven’t tried… might be worth a shot though. Let me know if you try… I might give it a whirl this week and report back to let you know how it goes.
Just saw this comment… any chance you tried the crockpot method?
I did and it didn’t turn out quite the same. It took forever… and so I’m convinced it’s not for me! The stove top does take a while to simmer down but I usually do it on a weekend when I’m going to be home cleaning the house. I don’t know, maybe I don’t have a good crock pot?
I’ve tried your recipe 2x now and both times it took over 3 hours to boil down to what I’d say is half, and then another 2+ hours to caramelize. The 2nd time I used a candy thermometer to try to get it to soft ball stage to make candies, wouldn’t get there. I’m not sure I have the time to try again. Standing at the stove for 5+ hrs isn’t with it, no matter how excited I was to make this work.
Sorry it didn’t work for you. I usually simmer mine down when I’m home all afternoon one day, that way I’m not spending too much time on one thing.
Hi, I just found this recipe and I’m really excited to try it! With 2 small kids and a bad back, being stove-side for that long isn’t going to work for me, BUT I was thinking that I could reduce the whey in my slow cooker, then do the rest on the stove. My mom makes Greek yogurt too, and loves to cook, so I’m thinking that she and I can take “shifts” at the stove when I’m visiting one day. I’ll let you know how it turns out using this hybrid method. 🙂
Let me know how it works for you, Natalie. It does take a while to simmer on the stove. I haven’t tried the slow cooker, but when I use the stove, I keep it on low and basically do things around the house (I have to do it on a day I’ll be home obviously). Once it simmers down to less than half, I have to stay closer to it because it turns rather quick at that point. Let me know when you try this hybrid method and if it works!
Can I use vanilla bean paste? Or use the fresh seeds(fresh vanilla bean) ? Same thing
I only have two cups of whey left from making yogurt. How much sugar and butter do I use to make caramel sauce?
Hi Glenda, I would save the whey until you have at least double that — if you aren’t up for that, then I would suggest 1/4 C of each, brown sugar and butter.
I have to say, I was skeptical. I waited to make this until a day when I felt brave enough to fail but alas – success! I made it with whey leftover from making Greek yogurt which apparently is pretty acidic because the final product is pretty tangy but I like it and I can imagine I will make this again!
I’m so glad, Mara! I make it every time I make yogurt. If I don’t feel like making it with a small batch of whey, then I’ll refrigerate my whey until I have quite a bit and make one large batch and share with my neighbors.
Megan Lloyd says
I apparently went to far because I ended up making hard caramel that I put in jars that I have no idea how to get out. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t swipe the back of a spoon with your finger to test the viscosity of the molten sugar like you would with testing ice cream base…you will end up with a pretty nasty 2nd degree burn…not that I’m speaking from experience or anything 😒
Oh I know.. I have done that too. I have done whey caramel so much, it hasn’t always worked though. You don’t necessarily see my failures on here — just my success. One time I got distracted with the kids and let it boil too far and it got hard in the pot and ruined my pot. And I had to toss it. I have (like you) burned my finger, forgetting how hot it was wanting to try a taste in my mouth. So I’m with you on your experience! I hope you feel better, Megan!
This is SO good! I feel like it took me twice the amount of time.. maybe I did something wrong? Also it’s very lemony.. is this just because my whey sat longer? I always let my yogurt sit a little longer for a tangier flavor and I strain for a full 24 hrs. Could I do away with the lemon? Or is it necessary?
I have been trying to use up gallons of whey.
Have made Brunost.. it is a chore to eat! Made ricotta and was delighted.. also caramelised the last bit. It boiled like fudge.. may never get it out of jar.. could one make toffees.. a bit salty and a bit sweet!!
Thanks, so glad to find your site
You sound like you have been busy! I haven’t ever made Brunost, but I have heard of it. I love having too much whey. What I started doing was freezing it in ice cubes and using it to make cold process soap. The sugars in the whey make for a lovely bar that lathers well. I had so much at one point.. I remember stressing out trying to use it all. I love caramel (kids too) but I need to try to make Brunost. I have seen it and it looks every bit of delicious!
How do you know if your way is sweet or acidic? I made some yogurt out of goat cheese and added Ranett to it. With the way the suite? When I make farmers cheese I add lemon juice which I know that would be acidic. But if you use rent it does that still make the Whey sweet?
Valerie – sweet whey is the result of rennet; while acid whey is the result of acid-coagulated cheese (ie. vinegar, or lemon juice). I hope that helps.
Reading through your account of making caramel from leftover whey, I’m intrigued and would like to have a try. But can you confirm the yield? The recipe says 1/2 gallon of whey reduced by half plus a quarter pound of butter and the 1-1/2 cups sugar makes only 1-1/2 cups of caramel. I would think it would be more like a quart of caramel. Am I right?
As an aside, I also use my leftover yogurt whey in place of chicken stock in sauces and soups, and in bread making to substitute for milk, buttermilk and water. Taste the whey to judge its acidity, and if very tart, for instance, use it to build out flavors found in sauces that use ingredients like makrut lime leaves and lemongrass common to SE Asian cuisines. Or make sodabread without the buttermilk.
You are right – it makes just about 1.5 cups, sometimes a tiny bit more. I don’t always make caramel with it (that would be dangerous for my diet!) — I sometimes use it for baking pancakes, sub buttermilk in banana bread, for marinading meat, in place of stock (just like you do!), and then other times it goes straight in my garden as some plants thrive on it (when diluted of course!) For me it is just knowing that I have one other option to use it especially at the holidays when I give gifts to random people for doing work on my house, people at church, etc.
Alana Howard says
Hi! I started cooking my whey down in the crockpot, which took forever! Lol. I moved it to a stock pot and reduced it down to about a quart, added in the butter, sugar and vanilla. Cooked it for a while and when I thought it was done removed it from the heat. I ended up with a very light sauce but it’s super bitter. Any way to save it?? Any clue as to why it happened? Thanks!!!
The final flavor will depend largely on the type of whey (sweet or acidic) and cheese. If yours is too bitter, I would add more sugar. I haven’t tried mine in the crock pot… I always have other stuff going in mine. I always do the stove, but then I always seem to get lazy at the end when it thickens up (and thickens up MUCH faster than I expect!).
Robert Eide says
I have a question regarding the slow cooker method of reducing the whey. Do you leave the top on or off? I would imagine if you left if on the steam would just consolidate on the top and fall back into the whey like rain? Am I missing something?
Hi Robert, you can leave the lid on but I would recommend cracking the lid to let that steam escape – otherwise (you are right!) – it’ll fall back in like rain. So just crack the lid. Here where I am, whey attracts mosquitos and fruit flies something fierce so I crack the lid to alleviate that issue. The steam still has an exit, and the majority of the pot is shielded from critters.
Loved this! I’ve always struggled with grainy whey caramel and this fixed that! Also, I always feel like it still tastes like whey and this recipe also cures that. Great recipe, great instructions, thank you!