Katie Das just couldn't get rid of her sweet tooth. After working for Kraft and studying business in grad school, she and her husband opened their own business - Das Foods - which makes handmade caramels out of a nondescript warehouse in Wauconda.
"I loved chocolate but I also don't like the fact that it's very high in fat and carmels are sort of a sweet treat that is not so high in fat, just as satisfying and also can be quite exciting as well," said Katie Das, Das Foods.
Her caramels begin by heating cream, sugar, rice syrup, honey and butter in a small copper kettle. High-end salt balances the sweetness.
"We use French, hand harvested sea salt from ground, and that salt if very flaky and it's not very metallic-y and its hand harvested, beautiful salt. Works very well to balance out the sweetness of the caramel," said Das.
Once the proper temperature is reached, the hot liquid is poured out onto a cooling table, rapidly lowering the temperature, slightly hardening it. After about 30 minutes, the caramels are cut into long, rectangular strips. They're carefully fed into an antique cutting machine, which quickly portions and wraps them up, making them ready for packaging and shipment.
She currently offers seven flavors, but while we were there, she was working on a new one: chopped pecans and a little chipotle syrup gave the caramel a subtle note of heat and crunch.
"Any kind of spices, exotic spices work extremely well, bring some unexpected sides to the caramel that you otherwise wouldn't see," said Das.
Other great flavors include lemon and honey, chai latte or ginger and pistachio.
Das says by keeping production small, she can alter flavors and make changes much quicker than the big, industrial players.
"Our caramels are very quirky but they are also made with a lot of attention to detail, and the way to get there is to make it on a small scale," said Das.
While retail locations carry mostly caramels, if you shop on the company's Web site, you'll also find some high-end, gourmet salts as well.
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