Healthy Caramel Recipe – (dairy-free) and great for apples

Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)

It’s party time! Who needs a healthy caramel recipe to make yummy caramel apples, or how about caramel popcorn for your next work potluck or packable lunch?

While I’m NOT condoning the act of sugar indulgence, I do want to continue to stuff your pocket with alternatives that are WAY better than the store bought, heavily processed junk. Dips and sauces can be a HUGE downfall if you don’t know what’s in them. And since we’re working our way into the “holiday train of events” time of the year, it might be a helpful recipe to keep in your toolkit.

What is Caramel Anyway?

I always get caramel and toffee confused, but after a quick read on CHOW’s website, we can clear that up right now.

Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)

The cooking temperature also makes a difference, but we won’t need to get that technical for you to make your own healthy caramel recipe this week!


A Fabulous Alternative

I’m calling this a “healthy caramel recipe,” because of how it compares to a more traditional version. In this case healthy (or shall I say “healthier”) simply means, WAY less sugar, WAY less calories/fat, WAY less sodium, ZERO preservatives, and plus it’s dairy-free (and vegan) for all of those who are following those dietary guidelines.

The color is darker than most caramels simply because of the type of sugar (coconut sugar) that I’m using vs. brown or regular white sugar. It’s also less sticky and doesn’t harden like traditional versions. Once you make it, cool it down and be sure to refrigerate it overnight for best results. The outcome is SO unreal and makes for the perfect caramel apple dip, or a sweet drizzles on fro-yo/ice cream, or even a gooey addition to baked goods. (Hmmmm I must try that.)

All in all, here’s what I’ve done:

  • replaced 1 cup heavy cream for 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • removed butter
  • swapped regular salt for sea salt and reduced it by ½
  • reduced sugar by 1 cup
  • removed corn syrup
  • reduced water
  • added a ½ teaspoon more of vanilla
  • added 1 tablespoon lemon

How Does it Compare?

To give you a quick overview of how this fabulous “healthy” caramel alternative compares to an original caramel recipe, let’s look at the ingredients:

Original Caramel Recipe Healthy Caramel Recipe
1 cup heavy cream (832 calories) 1 cup full fat coconut milk (420 calories)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water 2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (pure)
nothing  ½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice

The Process

Normally when making caramel, you need to be quite accurate about the temperature by using a candy thermometer. Since I’m no fancy pro, I’m going to keep this simple and easy so you can serve it up quick! Take a look:

Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)
Healthy Caramel Recipe (Dairy-Free)

Healthy Traditions at Work

What inspired me to share this recipe with you, had nothing to do with a healthy caramel recipe…or apples…or sugar, but rather a fond memory of having bi-monthly POTLUCKS at work!

During my tech corporate days, a few of us foodie lovers started bi-monthly potlucks as a means to bring our design and marketing team together. Sometimes it was “healthy” and sometimes it wasn’t, however each potluck had a theme. One of my favorites was a CARAMEL APPLE PARTY that was led by a super, awesome friend (Canela). We passed around 10-12 different apples with at least 20 different topping combos, and most importantly, we took a break from our deadlines to enjoy a friendly conversation over good eats.

I challenge YOU this month to build stronger teams with the folks you work with. Perhaps start a healthy tradition like a group walk, a potluck, or even a Halloween Party with healthy caramel apples!

Healthy Caramel Recipe – (dairy-free) and great for apples

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2/3 cup

Healthy Caramel Recipe –  (dairy-free) and great for apples

  • 1 cup coconut milk (full fat or light)
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ? teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice


  1. In a small pot over medium heat, mix coconut sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil.
  2. Immediately add the coconut milk (pour slowly), sea salt, and vanilla. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes thick and dark. Be sure to stir occasionally and scrape the edges of the pot with a rubber spatula to avoid burning.
  3. Remove from heat once it’s thick and cool it down to room temperature.
  4. For best results, store it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator overnight before using it. The outcome is UNREAL!

Use it for:
caramel apples, popcorn, drizzling over frozen yogurt/ice cream, or add it to other baked goods.

Don’t forget:
The consistency of the caramel looks and tastes BEST when you refrigerate it overnight before using it. And boy does it taste sooooo darn good (with less calories, sugar, and excess). 


Kale. All Day. Err Day.
Wake the Wolves - Kale All Day

If you like this recipe, checkout more nutritious and healthy living tips in our latest interactive book, Kale. All Day. Err Day. It’s enhanced and interactive for the iPad and we’re currently working on a PDF version for all tablet and computer devices. It’s filled with an great story all about kale, how-to videos, and recipes for the busy and the hungry. Did we mention, it’s FREE…for a limited time. Hurry – check it out here.

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Written By


Stephanie Wong

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  • Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers

    I saw this on Yummgoogle and I am so making this! What a great recipe! I love it!!

    • stephanie

      Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for the sweet note. It was definitely a food experiment gone well 🙂 I haven’t tried it in any baked goods yet, but I do hope to try that very soon! Thanks for checking us out btw.

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  • Missy

    Do you need to keep the caramel in the fridge after the first night?…..if there’s any left :}

    • stephanie

      Yes, I’d def keep in the fridge for storage. It will keep it fresh, especially in a tightly sealed jar. (Of course if there’s any left 😉 SO GOOD, right??? And the smell is outrageous, huh?

  • Sherry D

    WOW! I have a question for you – if I were wanting to make healther caramel candies, do you know if it’s possible to change something in your recipes to give these a firm, chewy texture? Should I cook it longer, etc? Or is that not possible with this recipe?

    Thanks so much for this!

    • stephanie

      Hmm Sherry! I’m stumped. Not sure how to make this a firmer/harder candy. I’m thinking you’d need a higher sugar ratio for that to happen. My sister loves making caramel candies (not the healthy kind 😉 for the holidays. I’ll have to ask her about her ingredients to see how the ratios compare. Since I’m so late in replying, I’m wondering if you gave it a shot?

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  • John

    Hi! Sooooo glad to find this recipe, but i couldn’t use coconut sugar so had to sub regular sugar. When I was done, the caramel had some chunks in it, I’m guessing it was the coconut milk. Any ideas what I may have missed?

    • stephanie

      Hi John — Hmmm…did the coconut milk have clumps of “cream” when you added it? That definitely could be a part of the reason. If you try it again, try taking a whisk to the pot to smooth out any bumps. Did you like the taste? One person commented and said she was NOT a fan of the coconut flavor.

  • Ann

    Oh my.Made this after reading the good reviews.The coconut flavor unfortunately is a little too much.Not liking it.

    • stephanie

      Hi Ann — coconut is definitely one of those “you either love it or hate it” kind of foods! Thanks for trying!

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  • dawdler

    Thanks for the dairy-free recipe. My son can’t tolerate dairy so this is great.

    “Healthy” might be pushing it, though 😉

    • stephanie

      Hi! Thanks for the share. “Healthy” is definitely one of those fine line words 🙂 “Healthier?, minimal ingredients?, lower in sugar? no preservatives? delicious?” 🙂 ENJOY!

  • Robin Mooney

    Thanks for the great recipe! I have a recipe for caramel brownies that I’ve been making for years–I don’t like to unwrap a ton of caramels so I converted it to using caramel apple dip! That is, I used to do this–after years of stomach issues I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy! Good bye gooey caramel brownies! Now I think I can make them again! I’ll let you know soon! Thanks again!

    • Wake the Wolves

      You are SOOO very welcome and YAY for rediscovering healthy, baking adventures. Please do let us know if this caramel recipe worked for your brownies! Yummmmy!

  • Wake the Wolves

    Hi Jillypax. Ok so my mama taught me that sometimes recipes will break when doubling (or tripling) — usually in baking more so than in savory stove-top cooking. A few things could have happened here:
    – doubling the recipe would increase the overall dry to wet ingredients, which means the cooking time and temperature would need to be adjusted.
    – the light brown sugar is more moist than coconut sugar, increasing the ‘wet’ ingredients. To compensate for this, you may have needed to decrease the other wet ingredients to even things out a bit.

    When we make this, it doesn’t have the exact same sticky feeling as regular caramel, but it does stick to the apples. I definitely would try it again and either use coconut sugar, or reduce your wet ingredients and KEEP SIMMERING (and stirring). Eventually the liquid will cook down and reduce, which will help thicken it all up!

    Hope that helps a bit!