Salted caramel is one of life's great joys.
The perfect hybrid of sweet and saline, the treat ticks about every taste box that there is. Indeed, it's this incessant box ticking that helps make it so irresistible, with people often eating amounts of sticky, salty desserts that go way beyond what would normally be considered comfortable.
It would be easy for this excess to be put down to greed. However, caramel addicts everywhere will be relieved to learn that there's more to the story than their lack of control. In order to provide excuses for caramel fiends from across the nation, science has stepped in to lend a sticky hand.
Researchers at the University of Florida have unveiled the results of a new study about why we love the food that is terrible for us. The study concluded that when we eat salty, sugary or fatty foods, our brains release drug-like, pleasure giving chemicals known as endogenous opioids. It's this rush of gratification that helps make naughty food feel so moreish.
The effect is even more pronounced in foodstuffs that combine one or more of these addictive factors. The result of this combination is known as "hedonistic escalation", a phenomenon that keeps our brains craving more and more as we detect a new flavour sensation with each bite.
According to the scientists responsible for the study, "Hedonic escalation is more likely to occur when a palatable food consists of a complex combination of flavours, and a person is motivated to taste additional flavours on each successive bite."
This is why any multi-faceted food is nigh on impossible to put down.
Clearly, salted caramel is one food stuff that ticks all three of the salty, sugary and fatty boxes. Historically made by adding salt early in the caramelisation process, the irresistible quality of the salted treat was well known in the sweet shops of northern France for centuries. After making its way over to America, salted caramel remained almost exclusively a tool of haute cuisine, before exploding onto the popular scene in the late 2000s. Its hedonistic quality has certainly helped its meteoric rise.
Of course, salted caramel is by no means that only food that ticks all these boxes.
Today's culinary scene is increasingly dominated by chefs prepared to push the boundaries of sugary/savoury hybrids. From classic comfort food dishes, like fried chicken and waffles, to offerings at the more adventurous end of the spectrum, like bacon donuts, there are a whole host of new treats for those that have come to love a sweet and salty mash up.
A final helpful consideration from the Floridian scientists implies that we are essentially powerless to resist our more indulgent foodie urges. According to the report, "Hedonistic escalation can also increase food consumption and influence food choice", essentially meaning that we may well already be consigned to a life of salted caramel addiction.
While there may certainly be worse ways to go, there is something tragic about being unable to resist salty sweet treats. Kids, don't do caramel.