HomeGeneralThe Science of Sugar

The Science of Sugar

Believe it or not, the holidays are almost right around the corner. That means it is almost time for candy! From fudge to divinity and peanut brittle, cooks everywhere will be flocking to their kitchens to whip up a vast array of goodies.

So in preparation for the festivities, this is probably a good time to become reacquainted with the various stages of cooking sugar and what exactly each one means.

The only way to ensure successful candy-making is to get an accurate temperature. The best way to do this is with a candy or instant read thermometer.

Alternatively, a bit of the hot sugar syrup can be dropped into cold water. Whatever form it takes after that indicates the sugar stage and the approximate temperature.

Although it is a cool science experiment and a good way to understand the chemistry of candy-making, using a thermometer is most accurate when making those delicious holiday goodies.

You will notice that there is some repetition. Depending on the recipe and then final desired texture, some candies like caramels and marshmallows may be cooked to different temperatures. The lower temperatures will produce a softer final product.

So without further ado, here are the stages from coolest to hottest

Thread (223 F. – 234 F. or 106 C.- 112 C.)
Used to make syrups

Soft Ball (234 F.-240 F. or 112 C. – 115 C.)
Used to make fudge, pralines, some buttercreams, caramels, fondant and marshmallows

Firm Ball (242 F. – 248 F. or 116 C. – 120 C.)
Used to make caramels, nougat, some buttercreams, Italian meringues, toffees and gummies

Hard Ball (250 F. – 266 F. or 122 C. – 130 C.)
Used to make caramels, divinity, nougat and toffees.

Soft Crack (270 F. – 290 F. or 132 C. – 143 C.)
Used to make butterscotch, taffy, marshmallows, firm nougat

Hard Crack (295 F. – 310 F. or 146 C. – 155 C.)
Used to make brittles, toffees and hard candy

Caramel (320 F. – 360 F. or 160 C. -182 C.)

Jill Meredith
Jill Meredith
Jill Meredith is a pastry chef, food writer and culinary instructor. She is passionate about all things sweet and loves sharing that passion and knowledge with others. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, daughter and 3 cats.