Carmel vs. caramel?

Caramel is the standard spelling for the color, taste, or candy produced from cooking sugar or syrup. Carmel is a common misspelling of caramel.

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What is the difference between carmel and caramel?

In the United States, it’s completely normal to pronounce caramel as “karh-mel or “care-a-mul.” In fact, most people would understand if you wrote caramel as “carmel,” even though these terms have nothing to do with each other. 

As noted by Garner’s Modern English Usage, “caramel” is the standard spelling for any burnt sugar that adds a light brown-hue, sweetens food items, or creates a “smooth, chewy, caramel-flavored candy” (Garner 145). 

Meanwhile, the noun “Carmel” exclusively references Mount Carmel of modern-day Israel, whose religious affiliations extend to the names of Carmel, California, and Carmel, Indiana. 

What does caramel mean?

The word caramel is a noun that references a type of flavoring, color, or sweet treat. More specifically, the New Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun caramel as a “sugar or syrup heated until it turns brown used as a flavoring or coloring for food or drinks” (“Caramel” 260). For this sense, English speakers may use caramel in sentences like: 

  • “My favorite flavor of ice cream is salted caramel or mint.” 
  • “For her birthday, we made a caramel pecan pie.” 
  • “His favorite part of Halloween is making caramel apples.” 

The light brown color we associate with caramel occurs from cooking sugar or syrup and is similar to hues like “hazel,” “chocolate,” “coffee,” or “cocoa.” Sentence examples include:  

  • “She loves having caramel-brown hair.” 
  • “The peacoat has a slight caramel hue.” 
  • “They have a caramel-colored cat.”

Lastly, English speakers can use the noun caramel to reference the soft candy composed of sugar and butter that has been melted and reheated (260). For example, 

  • “People with braces might not enjoy caramel candy.” 
  • “His favorite caramel candies include Wether’s Original or Twix.” 
  • “Most beach towns in Oregon have a local caramel shop.” 

Etymology of caramel

The French word caramel (‘burnt sugar’) entered the English language in the 18th century and originated from Spanish caramelo (260). The origins of caramelo are not well-documented, but the Online Etymology Dictionary believes it may come from Medieval Latin cannamellis from Latin canna and mellis (related to ‘honey’), or Latin calamus (‘reed’ or ‘cane’). 

What does Carmel mean?

The word Carmel is a proper noun that references several geographical areas, but the most prominent is Mount Carmel, a coastal mountain range in northern Israel. The culturally significant region shares religious ties to Jewish, Islamic, and Christian faiths, although it is often affiliated with historical wartime events between the 15th century and the first World War. 

Carmel” is also known as a biblical settlement in Judea (Palestine) and a nearby Israeli settlement located in the West Bank (est. 1980). However, the biblical affiliations of Mount Carmel went on to inspire the names of two U.S. cities, such as Carmel, Indiana (originally called “Bethlehem”), and Carmel, California (also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea). 

How to pronounce carmel vs. caramel?

It’s truly no wonder why so many people confuse the spellings of carmel and caramel, as both words have several different pronunciations between the United States and the United Kingdom. Let’s take a look:

How to pronounce caramel?

Common pronunciations of caramel candy or colors vary by dialect in the U.S., but they are largely the same in the U.K.:

  • American English pronounces caramel as either “karh-mel” (ˈkär-məl) with two syllables or “care-a-mul” (ˈker-ə-məl) with three syllables. 
  • British English pronounces caramel with three syllables as “kar-e-mel” (ˈkarəm(ə)l).

How to pronounce caramelize or caramelized?

Since American and British English pronounce caramel differently, you can expect differences for “caramelize,” too: 

  • North Americans pronounce “caramelize” as “car-mel-ize” (ˈkɑːr.məl.aɪz).
  • British English uses the spelling “caramelise” and pronounces the verb with four syllables: “care-a-mel-ize” (ˈkær.ə.məl.aɪz)

How to pronounce Mount Carmel?

If you’re discussing Mount Carmel (of the Middle East), there are also differences in pronunciation between American English and British English: 

  • American English pronounces Mount Carmel as “kar-muhl” (ˈkär-məl), which is nearly indistinguishable from the Am. Eng. caramel (with two syllables). 
  • British English also pronounces Mount Carmel with two syllables, although there’s less emphasis of the letter “R” and sounds likeka-mel” (ˈkɑːm(ə)l). 

How to pronounce Carmel, California vs. Carmel, Indiana?

The Carmels of California and Indiana are named after the religious affiliations of Mount Carmel, but that doesn’t mean they share common pronunciations

  • Americans pronounce Carmel, Indiana, as “kar-muhl.
  • Local Californians pronounce the “Carmel” of Carmel-by-the-Sea as “car-mel” (kär-​ˈmel). 

FAQ: Related to carmel vs. caramel

How to pronounce pecan correctly?

The noun pecan is another dessert-related term that causes quite a stir amongst English speakers. We often hear “pecan” in reference to beloved dessert toppings or ingredients in phrases like “chocolate pecan pie,” “pecan pralines,” or “butter pecan ice cream.” But as common as these desserts are, not everyone pronounces “pecan” the same. 

As demonstrated by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the three most common American pronunciations of pecan are: 

  • Pea-can or pee-can (pē-ˌkan
  • Pa-kahn (pi-ˈkän)  
  • Pe-can (pe-ˈkan

So, which is correct? Millican Pecan, a Texas pecan distributor, states “pa-kahn” is the correct pronunciation of “pecan” and that “pee-can” is the second-most-common form. But while Millican’s blog argues that neither variant is affected by one’s regional dialect, that doesn’t mean the British pronounce “pecan” the same. 

According to Lexico, standard British pronunciations of “pecan” include:

  • Pea-kin (piːk(ə)n)
  • Peh-can (pɪˈkan)
  • Pey-kahn (pɪˈkɑːn

Of course, a British accent can make any American term sound different, so there’s no need to toil over their differences. But since “pecan” originates from French pacane (from Illinois, that is), we suggest sticking to Millican’s recommendation of “pa-kahn.” 

Test Yourself!

Carmel and caramel are two of the most common nouns to confuse, so make sure you know their differences with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: Carmel, California, and Carmel, Indiana share the same pronunciations? 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. What is the least correct pronunciation of caramel?
    a. Car-muhl
    b. Karh-mel
    c. Kar-e-mel
    d. Care-a-mul
  3. What is the correct pronunciation of Carmel, California?
    a. Care-a-mul
    b. Car-muhl
    c. Car-mel
    d. Kar-muhl
  4. Which of the following words share the same pronunciation in American and British English? 
    a. Mount Carmel
    b. Caramel
    c. Caramelize
    d. None of the above
  5. Which of the following is a British spelling variant? 
    a. Caramelize
    b. Carmelize
    c. Carmalised
    d. Caramelised
  6. Choose the correct words: “Clint Eastwood lives near a __________ store in __________.” 
    a. Carmel, Caramel
    b. Caramel, Carmel
    c. Caramel, Caramel
    d. Carmel, Carmel 

Answers

  1. B
  2. A
  3. C
  4. D
  5. D
  6. B

Sources

  1. Bang, J. “How to Pronounce Pecan?Millican Pecan, MillicanPecan.com, 22 Jan 2020. 
  2. Black, I. “‘Haifa is essentially segregated’: cracks appear in Israel’s capital of coexistence.” The Guardian, 19 Apr 2018. 
  3. Caramel.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  4. Caramel.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  5. “Caramel.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p.  260.
  6. Carmel-by-the-Sea.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Caramelize.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  8. Garner, B. “Caramel.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 145. 
  9. Harper, D. “Caramel (n.).Online Etymology Dictionary, Etymonline.com, 2021. 
  10. Mount Carmel.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  11. Mount Carmel.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  12. Pecan.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  13. Pecan.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.