How Long Do Caramels Last? Do They Go Bad?

There’s an out-of-date bag of caramels in your kitchen cupboard, and you’re wondering if they are still any good. How long do caramels last?

Or you have a couple of leftover caramels stored away for a couple of months now, and you need to do something about them. Should you toss them or eat them? Do caramels go bad?

If either of those questions has brought you here, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • shelf life – how long caramels are good for, and if they go bad or not
  • storage – is leaving them at room temperature good enough? What about homemade caramels?
  • spoilage and quality loss – when to toss yours

Interested? Let’s dive in.

Caramels bag in hand
Caramels bag in hand

How Long Do Caramels Last?

Store-bought caramels come with a shelf life of 4 to 12 months, depending on the ingredients. They retain the best quality for a month to a couple of months past their date, as long as you store them in a cool place.

As you might imagine, caramels without any preservatives or additives come with a relatively short recommended shelf life ([MOU]). If yours come from a popular brand, like Werther’s, they typically come with a best-by date that’s about a year of the production date.

Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling how long past the “expiration date” yours will retain their quality. It depends on way too many factors.

But what I’m quite certain of is that caramels with a long shelf life keep for much longer past their dates than their more perishable counterparts. If you buy your caramels in a supermarket from a well-known brand, and the bag is a few months “expired,” the candy should quite alright.

Date on caramels
Date on caramels
Tip

No matter if your caramels are store-bought or ordered from a small artisan confectioner, they can all benefit from refrigeration or freezing. More on that later.

Homemade caramels retain quality for a couple of weeks at room temperature, a couple of months in the fridge, or even more if you freeze them. This storage time is similar, though shorter, than this of no-preservatives caramels you can order online.

Obviously, that period is only a rough estimate, and it’s always best to go with whatever your recipe says. For example, these homemade caramels from The Stay At Home Chef keep best for two weeks in ambient temperature and freeze for at least six months.

Room temperatureFridge
Caramels, store-boughtBest-by date + 1 – 3 monthsBest-by date + 3 – 6 months
Caramels, homemade2 – 4 weeks2 – 3 months
Please note the periods above are for best quality only. Caramels should stay okay to eat for much longer.

If you don’t devour your caramels in one or two sittings, you might want to know a bit more about how to store them. Let’s talk about that.

Caramel candy closeup
Caramel candy closeup

How To Store Caramels

Store caramels in a cool and dark place. A kitchen cupboard is okay for most of the year, but if the temperature starts getting higher (75°F or 24°C, or more), consider transferring them into the fridge.

If the environment gets too warm, caramels might start to melt. At best, you might end up with melted and set-once-again caramels that taste so-so. At worst, you might need to discard them or even have to clean up the shelf if they weren’t sealed tightly.

Tip

If you’re in the middle of a hot summer and you’re not blasting your AC 24/7, it’s probably best to keep your caramels in the fridge or freezer. That’s especially true for homemade or preservative-free ones.

Caramels bag wrapped
Caramels bag wrapped. Usually good enough for storing for a couple of months.

Once you open the bag, keep the caramels away from strong odors, or use a freezer bag to take care of that for you.

Next up, let’s talk temperature.

Caramels melt if it’s too warm. That’s why I recommended storing yours in the refrigerator if it gets too hot. Some confectioners even use cool packaging for shipping caramels if the forecasted temperatures are high ([MOU]).

Besides that, caramels keep best in cold temperatures anyway. If you want yours to retain quality for much longer, you can always throw them in the fridge, no matter what.

Tip

Always let your caramels warm up to room temperature before you eat them. Cold caramels are break-your-teeth hard, not soft and chewy.

And if refrigerating caramels is a good idea, isn’t freezing them even better?

Bunch of wrapped caramels
Bunch of wrapped caramels

Can You Freeze Caramels?

Yes, you can freeze caramels. All you need to do is place them in a freezer bag, squeeze out all the air, seal the bag, and freeze.

Frozen caramels retain quality for months past their “expiration date,” and freezing is the best way to store homemade caramels long-term.

Of course, freezing these candy only makes sense if you actually need the extra storage time. If you’re going to go through your supply (however big it was) in a matter of a week or two, freezing doesn’t help much.

Tip

If you’re making a big batch of caramels for the next couple of months, consider freezing them. Otherwise, freezing is rarely needed.

When it comes to defrosting, there are at least two ways to go about that:

  • Defrost on the counter. Your frozen caramels need at least two hours until they get to optimal temperature. Make sure to spread them out. The larger the caramels, the more time you need.
  • In the fridge. You can transfer frozen caramels into the refrigerator and leave them there for 10 to 16 hours so that they warm up to fridge temperature. You still need to put them on the counter to make them chewable, but it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.
Two caramels
Two caramels

When To Toss Old Caramels?

Toss old caramels if:

  • They’re moldy, or there’s anything off about their appearance. Of course, there are dozens of caramels styles, so compare yours to how they looked when you’d bought them, not to caramels from another brand. If they are deformed, they might’ve melted at some point and should be safe to eat (but not as good).
  • They smell off. If the caramels have been sealed tightly but give off a “funny” smell, throw them out. If you messed up storage and they picked up the odor of something smelly that was nearby, it’s up to you whether you eat them or not. I once ate a piece of cake that smelled liked sausage, and I almost threw up. Just saying.
  • They taste off. Taste is the ultimate factor here. If yours look and smell okay but taste bad or weird for whatever reason, it’s time for them to go.

As you probably noticed, I didn’t mention anything about the “best-by” date. That’s because if yours are “expired” but don’t show any signs of spoilage, they’re probably perfectly safe.

The opposite is also true. Your caramels might be well within their date, but if something is off, err on the side of caution and get rid of them. In most cases, the issues would be caused by exposure to hot temperatures.

Tip

If all your caramels are coated with white powder, that’s most likely okay. Some manufacturers cover their caramels with a coating that prevents the candy from sticking to the wrapper ([GOE]). When in doubt, check the label or seller’s website.

Sources