OK, once I watched the Master Chef program and I heard people use a word that sounds like "caromize" to express the meaning of “cook a dish until the juices of the dish has reduced and is viscous”.

For example, you season your raw meat in a pan and then pour coconut water into meat. Then you cook it until all the coconut juice in your pan has reduced and becomes viscous.

Then I can say "cook the meat until it got caromized". I am not sure caromize is the word.

So, what is the word that sounds like "caromize" which expresses the meaning of "cook a dish until we can reduce the juice in that dish to being viscous"?

  • 5
    The "carmelize" pronounciation is a US thing (well, I don't know about Canada), ie, they skip a syllable. The rest of the native English speaking world says cara-mel-ize. It used to confuse me, when I heard US cooking shows, as it conjured a vision of Carmelite nuns saying prayers for the dish. The US has many different sounding culinary terms.
    – DrSpleen
    Aug 16, 2015 at 16:38
  • 1
    Re the pronunciation of "caramel", I regularly hear "car-mul", "care-mul", "care-uh-mul", and "care-uh-mel", with the pronunciation of "caramelize" following suit. And likely people (including myself) may choose one other depending on the context. I don't regard any of the four as being better or worse, save that "car-mul" tends to come across as a bit snooty.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 16, 2015 at 18:41
  • Of possible interest: Is “sealing in the flavor” an actual thing?
    – Mazura
    Aug 16, 2015 at 18:55
  • The other answer is excellent, of course: the apparent US English tendency to swallow syllables. But I do think there are some potentially subtler issues, as my friend's "mandolin", as kitchen implement, which, as an amateur musician, seriously confused me... but/and after suitable googling found that the kitchen implement is "mandoline". Hilarious, all 'round... Aug 16, 2015 at 23:04
  • 1
    It is a great shame that DrSpleen's answer was changed into a comment. I'm not saying it was anything as good as tchrist's but it did help to confirm that the three syllable pronunciation exists. Sometimes the "weak" and "amusing" answers help the stronger ones to shine. Just saying.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 17, 2015 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


Definition of caramelize

That word is caramelize, to cook something until its sugars turn to caramel at around 410° F. Recipes will often call for sautéing onions until they caramelize, for example.

Wikipedia article picture of caramelization

The Wikipedia article on caramelization from which the image above was taken says that it is:

the browning of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor. Like the Maillard reaction, caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning. However, unlike the Maillard reaction, caramelization is pyrolysis, as opposed to reaction with amino acids.


The OED says that English took the word caramel from French and that they in turn adapted it from the Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian word caramelo. Larousse says that the French took it from the Spanish and that the Spanish took it from the Portuguese, and the DRAE confirms that the Spanish got it from the Portuguese. But somewhere in Iberia the trail grows cold, and the OED ultimately says that it is of uncertain origin, providing this note:

Scheler suggests that the Spanish represents Latin calamellus little tube, in reference to its tubular form; Mahn thinks it from medieval Latin cannamella sugar-cane: an Arabic source is conjectured by Littré.

Variable Pronunciation

Actual pronunciation of the word caramelization varies between /ˈkɑɹməˌlaɪz/ with three syllables (“karma lies”) and /ˈkeɹəməˌlaɪz/ with four syllables (“carry m’ lies”).¹ The shorter three-syllable version is probably the more common of the two in North America except on the East Coast and in the South, although either could be heard pretty much anywhere across the continent.

This is because there are two different underlying pronunciations for caramel possible: one has three syllables, /ˈkeɹəˌmɛl/, and the other has only two syllables, /ˈkɑɹməl/. Wiktionary claims of caramel that:

Both the two syllable and the three syllable pronunciations are very common in all regions of the United States, but the trisyllabic pronunciation is more common than the disyllabic one in the South (excluding western Texas), northern New Jersey, eastern New York, and New England, while the disyllabic one is more common than the trisyllabic one in other regions.

Neither pronunciation should be confused for Carmel as in Carmel-by-the-Sea which is contrastively stressed on the second syllable, so /kɑɹˈmɛl/. This does, however, suggest a path towards forcing a particular pronunciation if one is so inclined.

Forcing a Particular Pronunciation

You normally can’t tell from reading something how the writer expected it to be pronounced, but in some forms of verse you can. Here’s a bit of doggerel to force the reader into one or the other of the two pronunciations.

With a “Missing” Syllable

Using a bouncy limerick:

There was a young lady from Wheaton
Who swore that the best thing she’d eaten
           From Carmelite nuns
           Was caramelized buns
With pockets to hide all the meat in.

That one demands the “carmelized” pronunciation that’s missing a syllable to match Carmelite and to have the right stresses and syllable count to fit the meter. There is no sound at all between the r and the m in both those words. People who say “carmel” with two syllables (usually) also say “carmelized” with three.

With an “Extra” Syllable

Using the flickering trisyllabic assonances of Tolkien’s Errantry:

Columbus sailed his caravels
       In parallels across the seas
In search of spicy caramels
       And fairy shells and colonies.

That one demands the “caramels” pronunciation with the extra syllable to match caravels, parallels, fairy shells — and to have the right stresses and syllable count to fit this more exotic (and much more difficult!) verse form. There is a schwa sound between the r and the m. People who say “caramel” with three syllables say “caramelized” with four.


  1. Don’t worry too much about the broad phonemic transcriptions; these represent phonemes only, not exact sounds. Some speakers may even realize that phonetically as [ˈkæə̯ɹəmɪ̈ˌlaɪz].
  • Though it should be noted that the term does not necessarily imply "boiling down" a liquid, but, literally, means cooking a sugar-containing substance until some of the sugar is converted to caramel. In the OP's example the meat does not caramelize, but rather the sugar in the coconut juice.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 16, 2015 at 13:27
  • 2
    Note that caramel and its derivatives are almost universally pronounced as carmel /kɑɹməl/ in the US today. Aug 16, 2015 at 13:51
  • 5
    @StoneyB - I would disagree. Both pronunciations (and several in-between) are used in the US, often in a context-dependent fashion..
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 16, 2015 at 14:00
  • 2
    @StoneyB: this is very regional. See this map. Basically, the three-syllable pronunciation is used in much of the South and Northeast, and everywhere else uses two syllables. Aug 16, 2015 at 15:04
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I’ve edited that section to clarify what I meant. The point is that some people say carmel and carmelize with nothing between the r and the *m just like with Carmelite, but others say caramel and caramelize with an extra syllable in each. The meter and rhyme in each respective verse, along with similar words, was an attempt to force that particular reading, but I’ve now added a longer explanation of what I meant beneath each ditty. I know this makes little sense to a Romance speaker used to caramelo but the carmel pronunciation is common in North America.
    – tchrist
    Aug 17, 2015 at 12:34

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