Can you name some of your favorite desserts with caramel either in it or drizzled on top? Whether you prefer to get your fix of the sweet stuff by eating sticky caramel corn, smooth caramel ice cream, or pillowy tres leches cake, the confectionery product is a favorite to many no matter the dish it's integrated in. While you may eat it often, can you confidently say you know how to pronounce it? The proper caramel pronunciation has always been a hot topic of debate, after all.
But is it pronounced car-muhl, care-a-muhl, or care-a-melle?
The answer? It depends on where you're from.
OK, so who says it which way and why?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, if you're from the UK, you likely put more emphasis on the "care" part of the word and pronounce it like care-a-muhl. In the U.S., you're likely more apt to skip the middle syllable and cut to the chase by saying car-muhl.
You see, the word caramel is derived from the 18th-century Spanish turned French word caramelo, which is pronounced as car-a-mello. So, North American English speakers adopted the "car" pronunciation from the original word, whereas British speakers tend to pronounce caramel as "care-a-muhl."
There's yet another common way of saying caramel. Have you ever heard anyone say, care-a-melle?
Joshua Katz, a doctoral student in linguistics at N.C. State University, found that those who say caramel with two syllables (car-muhl) predominantly make up most of the United States, encompassing western, southwestern, and midwestern states. Caramel with three syllables (care-a-muhl and care-a-melle), on the other hand, is more commonplace for those living along the east coast, as well as in southeastern states spanning all the way from Louisiana to Florida.
Whether you say caramel with a "-muhl" or "-melle" ending may also be an indication of what region of the country you grew up in. Perhaps there are consistencies in how you pronounce caramel and another word with multiple pronunciations, such as pecan.
In short, there is absolutely no right way to say caramel. The fact is, everyone has their own way of saying it depending on where they're from, and that's completely fine. Think about it this way: is the barista at Starbucks really going to correct you on the way you order your salted caramel macchiato? I don't think so.