Brown Sugar

Caramels get sweetened with nontraditional additions

First came chocolate. Then ice cream. Now it's that sticky brown stuff.

Despite caramel's concise list of basic ingredients (sugar, water, milk, corn syrup, butter), local candy makers are redefining its flavor profile, creating nuanced variations on the classic that go far beyond salt.

"Caramel is comfort food, but we wanted to create a really complex profile that has a beginning, middle and end–like a glass of wine," says Michael Winnike of Happy Goat caramels.

With Valentine's Day around the corner, chocolate has finally gotten its comeuppance. Here, some of the Bay Area's finest, new-breed caramels:

Happy Goat Tangy from the use of goat's milk, these supersoft caramels are shot through with flecks of vanilla bean. Touted as the lactose intolerant's caramel, they're also highly addictive. Available at The Candy Store, 1507 Vallejo St.; 415-921-8000 or happygoatcaramel.com

Humphry Slocombe's Lard Caramels Local bad-boy Incanto chef Chris Cosentino's Boccalone lard produces a sweet that's surprisingly not-sweet. A heady scent of bacon fat and slick consistency remind you–blissfully–of what you're eating. 2790 Harrison St.; 415-550-6971 or humphryslocombe.com

Sweet Revolution Maple sugar and bright, salty notes equal a highly balanced (and certified-organic) candy. Plus, the old-fashioned cardboard box, complete with a wax seal, makes for a rustic-chic gift. Available at Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St.; 415-241-9760 or sweetrevolutioncaramels.com

Spice Vice Tamarind Caramels Perhaps the most complex of the bunch, these gorgeous dark caramels leave a mouth-warming tingle due to the addition of tamarind, while delicate citrus notes add a touch of brightness. Available at Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St.; 415-241-9760 or spicevice.com [UPDATE: These caramels are no longer in production.]