Dulce de leche (Spanish for “sweet milk") is a product of 19th-century Argentina that quickly became popular throughout all of Latin America. The caramel-like taste can be found in candies, cakes, cookies, and even (especially recently) ice cream.
Wikipedia: Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche in Spanish or doce de leite in Portuguese ("milk candy"), is a milk-based syrup. Found as both a sauce and a caramel-like candy, it is popular across Latin America. It is prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product similar in taste to caramel.
Especially popular in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, it is also consumed in Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. In Mexico, it is known as cajeta, manjarblanco in Peru, simply manjar in Chile, and arequipe in Colombia and Venezuela. The name literally means “sweet of milk” or “milk candy” in Spanish and Portuguese. The French preparation confiture de lait is very similar to the spreadable forms of dulce de leche.
Origins and variations
There are many stories about the origin. One story involves the 19th century Argentinian caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas. The story goes that in a winter afternoon at the Rosas house, the maid was making some lechada—a drink made with milk and sugar boiled until it starts to caramelize—and she heard someone knocking at the door. She left the lechada on the stove and went to answer the door; and when she came back, the lechada was burnt and had turned into a brown jam: dulce de leche.
It is, however, more likely to have its origins in Europe, possibly as the French confiture de lait: a popular similar legend dating back from the 14th century exists in the region of Normandy, involving a cook from the military troops who had the same culinary accident when making sweetened milk for breakfast. Variations of this legend refer to a cook in Napoleon’s army.
The most popular dulce de leche brands in Argentina are La Serenísima and Sancor. The most popular dulce de leche brands in Uruguay are Conaprole and Lapataia, which is made in Punta del Este. There are also other Brazilian, Chilean, Dominican, Paraguayan, Venezuelan and Colombian varieties of it, which are solid and can be cut into bars. The Venezuelan variety is made in the city of Coro, in the Northwest of the country, and is sold as either pure dulce de leche or made with chocolate swirled in (dulce de leche con chocolate). The Dominican variety of the solid version is traditionally sold in blocks formed with strips of dulce de leche and solid fruit jam, usually orange, guava or coconut.
A solid candy made out of Dulce de Leche was also very popular, named Vaquita ("little cow") was manufactured by the Mu-Mu factory in Argentina. Since the candy was no longer made when the factory went out of business in 1984 as a consequence of financial speculation by its owners, other brands began to manufacture similar candies giving them names such as Vauquita and Vaquerita in an effort to link their products to the original.
The Mexican cajeta is named after the small wooden boxes it was traditionally packed in. Developed as a specialty of the town Celaya in the state of Guanajuato, the Mexican version of dulce de leche is made of half goat’s milk and half cow’s milk.
Preparation and uses
Its most basic recipe calls for slowly boiling milk and sugar, although other ingredients may be included to achieve special properties. Dulce de leche may also be prepared by cooking sweetened condensed milk for several hours. Although the transformation that occurs in preparation is often called caramelization, it is actually a form of the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that is responsible for many of the flavors of cooked food. Dulce de leche is usually one sixth the size of its original volume.
Dulce de leche is used to flavor candies or other sweet foods, such as cakes, cookies (see alfajor) or ice cream, as well as flan. It is also popular spread on toast. Confiture de lait is commonly served with fromage blanc.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
dulce de leche, n.
[< American Spanish dulce de leche (1884; orig. and chiefly in Argentina) < dulce sweet (see DULCE n.) + de of (< classical Latin de DE prep.) + leche milk (< classical Latin lact-, lac: see LACTO-).]
Originally in South American (esp. Argentine) cuisine: sweet, caramelized milk, often served as a spread or sauce.
1923 F. G. CARPENTER Tail of Hemisphere 231 In a third room they were making an Argentine sweet or conserve of milk and sugar which is very popular. This is called dulce de leche. It is a kind of milk marmelade which is eaten with a spoon.
1925 Times 17 Aug. (Suppl.) p. xviii/6 Practically all the condensed milk and dried milk is sold in the country, but there is a small export of dulce de leche, a delicious sweetmeat made of milk and sugar.
The Land and the People, Natural Wealth and Commercial Capabilities
by Dr. E. De Bourgade La Dardye
London: George Philip & Son
It may be added that another use for milk is found in the preparation of a kind of sweetmeat, called dulce de leche, which is much appreciated by the country-folk.
Through the First Antarctic Night, 1898-1899:
A narrative of the voyage of the “Belgica” among newly discovered lands and over an unknown sea about the South Pole
by Frederick Albert Cook
New York, NY: Doubleday & McClure Co.
In the absence of butter one is, however, not so seriously disappointed after he is accustomed to the Spanish substitute, ”dulce de leche,” a sort of confection of milk. Mrs. Huysman, the wife of a prominent Belgian of Montevideo, had presented the expedition with a liberal supply of this, and after one or town introductions it proved quite a delicacy. Dulce de leche is a kind of sweet paste of the consistency of lard; at ordinary temperature it has a straw colour and no distinct odour. It is made of condensed milk, cane sugar and the marrow of the largest beef bones, the ingredients being worked together in a smooth homogenous mixture, and then sealed in small tin cans. In this form it is much in use, and can be obtained throughout all of southern South America. The mixture is extremely nutritious, and aside from its position as a substitute for butter it has evidently special values of its won. I see no reason why it could not be introduced with advantage into the United States.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
BUREAU OF ANIMAL INDUSTRY—BULLETIN No. 48
The Animal Industry of Argentina
by Frank W. Bicknell
Washington, DC: Government Printing Office
Besides butter and sterilized milk, the dairy companies make a preparation peculiar to Argentina, known as “dulce de leche,” literally “sweet of milk.” This confection is made by boiling whole milk and sugar for several hours, with constant stirring, until it becomes very tick, a sugary paste that is delicious as a dressing or as a dessert by itself, and is very popular there. The people make it themselves and use it freely. Condensed milk of excellent quality, both sweetened and natural, is made by these companies.
The Other Americans:
The Cities, the Countries, and Especially the People of South America
by Arthur Brown Ruhl
New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons
...here, tiled dairy lunches are scattered all over town and people drop in for the little caramel slabs of dulce de leche, just as they spend pennies for…
The Andean Land
by Chase Salmon Osborn
Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Co.
The region about Ilo also produces good white wines and olives of greatest size, and dulce de leche, a candy of a superior quality.
Baedeker of the Argentine Republic
by Albert B. Martinez
Barcelona: R. Sopena, printer
... de la Virgen» and the «dulce de leche«. The traveller will find the latter in the best milk-shops.
A Country with a Future
by Otto Schoenrich
New York, NY: The MacMillan Company
Azua is famous throughout Santo Domingo for its excellent “ducle de leche,” a kind of milk taffy, which is well made elsewhere in the Republic, but is better in Azua as it is here prepared from goat’s milk.
27 February 1922, Iowa City (Iowa) Press-Citizen, “Here Are Some Popular South American Recipes,” pg. 2, col. 6:
There are coffee houses, milk shops and confectioners’ shops where banana sweets, dulce de leche and other confections are to be found.
14 January 1930, Christian Science Monitor, “Some Argentine Desserts,” pg. 10:
Dulce de Leche
This sweet is made of cream and milk boiled with sugar until it forms a thick paste. It can be used either as a filling for cakes, biscuits, alfajores, etc., or else eaten instead of jam on bread and butter. Children love it.
29 October 1959, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 5, pg. 2:
During the South American Fortnight at Neiman-Marcus…
DULCE DE LECHE
Into the top of a double boiler, empty 1 can of sweetened condensed milk. Cover tightly and cook gently over boiling water 2 1/2 hours, or longer if needed to carmelize milk. Check water in bottom of double boiler during cooking and replace if needed. Do not life cover of pan until the end of the 2 1/2-hour cooking period. Fill cookies while the mixture is still warm. Makes enough filling for about three dozen cookies.
Houston (TX) Chronicle
14 September 2001, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “OK, enough, already!” by Lydia Martin, Dining Guide, pg. 4:
When is too much of a good thing just too much?
When you can get it from a drive-through window at McDonald’s.
Sure, we were psyched when Haagen-Dazs introduced dulce de leche ice cream back in 1998. It was the big corporate nod to the Latin sweet tooth, a sign that the hefty Hispanic dollar was finally forcing Middle America to pander to our predilections.
But a dulce de leche McFlurry? Can you say McOverkill?
12 October 2001, Wall Street Journal, “Dulce de Leche Takes a Spot in Vocabulary and Pantries of U.S.” by Shelly branch, pg. B8:
As distracted Americans increasingly reach for comforting, indulgent foods, a popular dessert from Argentina, called dulce de leche, is commanding a place in the U.S.’s pantries and vocabulary.
Jellies and confections maker J.M. Smucker Co., based in Orrville, Ohio, sells two varieties of dulce de leche caramel toppings. Mars Inc. recently introduced dulce de leche M&M’s. Even Groupe Danone’s U.S. Dannon unit has whipped up a dulce de leche yogurt as part of its La Creme dessert line.
The ubiquity of the caramel treat, whose name translates into “sweet of milk,” signals a subtle shift in the food industry.
Over the years, food companies have strained to win over various ethnic groups, particularly consumers of Hispanic origin. Most efforts centered on special ads, as well as ethnic recipes—for BBQ beef fajitas, for example—that call for mainstream ingredients, such as Kraft Foods Inc.’s Original Barbecue sauce.
Rarely, however, do major food companies in the U.S. import ideas from non-English-speaking cultures and commit to marketing them broadly. “Mainstream America tends to be very insular in its food tastes,” notes Lynn Dornblazer, editorial director of Mintel’s Global New Products Database. One notable exception: salsa, the Mexican staple.
But, back to dulce de leche. Before 1998, there were virtually no mass-marketed dulce de leche products in the U.S. But in the past three years, according to Mintel’s of Chicago, a total of 36 products—ranging from coffee to toppings, ice creams, yogurts and cosmetics—have been launched for broad distribution.
Cosmetics company Coty Inc. rolled out a dulce de leche-inspired scent in 1999, and France’s L’Oreal SA followed up in the U.S. with a lip gloss under the dulce de leche name. And Mars’s dulce de leche M&M is its first new variety of the candy since 1999.
Much of the credit for dulce de leche’s popularity in the U.S. rests with Haagen-Dazs. Back in 1997, executives at Diageo PLC’s Pillsbury unit were preparing to expand their scoop shops to Argentina. A potential franchisee noted that about 30% of that country’s ice-cream sales were of the dulce de leche flavor. The ice-cream maker didn’t have one.
“Haagen-Dazs decided it needed a dulce de leche flavor in order to be a credible business in Argentina,” says Stephen Moss, vice president of marketing for the brand. Haagen-Dazs ice cream is now sold in the U.S. by Ice Cream Partners USA, a joint venture between Nestle SA and Pillsbury.
Haagen-Dazs brought dulce de leche to the U.S. in 1998. While most Americans could relate to plain old caramel, marketers feared the term dulce de leche might be lost in translation.
Eventually, the company decided that the authentic term would signal something new to consumers, who were already familiar with Haagen-Dazs’s other caramel flavors.
“To help out the Anglo market, we put the word caramel underneath dulce de leche on the package,” recalls Mr. Moss.
Although the first pints were available only in heavily Hispanic areas, dulce de leche was soon outselling other Haagen-Dazs products launched nationwide at the same time.
Today, the caramel-laced ice cream is Haagen-Dazs’s sixth-best-selling flavor in the U.S. out of 34 varieties.
Imitators quickly followed, including dulce de leche ice-cream versions from Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Co. and Starbucks Corp. Smucker, a major player in spreads and dessert toppings, jumped in with its first dulce de leche spread in 1999 and recently rolled out a dulce ice-cream topping.
Houston (TX) Chronicle
14 May 2003, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Dulce de leche delights,” Food section, pg. 4:
HYDE PARK, N.Y. - Dulce de leche, translated as “milk jam,” is a soft caramel confection that’s very popular throughout Mexico, Central and South America.
It’s a relative newcomer to the United States’ taste buds, but it is quickly growing in popularity. Swirled into ice creams and yogurt blends, and used as a filling in prepared frozen dessert items, dulce de leche is becoming a fast favorite as a dessert ingredient.
Traditional dulce de leche is a simple combination of whole milk and sugar, usually flavored with cinnamon, vanilla or lemon - slight variations often according to local tradition.
The milk and sugar are combined over low heat and cooked slowly. At this temperature, it is the milk solids that caramelize, and which provide the distinct flavor and color.
The mixture is cooked until it reduces to about one-quarter of its original volume. The result is a sweet, smooth sauce, which is easy to spread when chilled.
Variations of dulce de leche include products such as cajeta, which is made with goat milk or a combination of goat and cow milk. Stronger in flavor than dulce de leche, cajeta is also popular in Mexico and Argentina.
29 October 2003, New York (NY) Sun, “Argentinian Gold: Dulce de Leche” by Paul Lukas, pg. 17, col. 1:
The dinner, at an Argentinian restaurant, had been great, and the dessert was even better: a fondue featuring little biscuits and cookies and a saucepan of the wonderful caramel sauce known as dulce de leche.
“God, I love this stuff,” said my friend Sarah, dipping another cookie into the saucepan. “But what is dulce de leche anyway?”
“Well, it translates to ‘sweet milk,’” I said, feeling all multiculural and factoid-handy.
“Yeah,” she said, “but what is it? How do they make it? Like, do they just melt a bunch of Kraft caramels or what?”
These are good questions, and timely ones too, because dulce de leche, once consigned to the ethnic fringe, has acquired much more of a mainstream profile in recent years. Many coffee bars now offer dulce de leche-flavored java, plus there’s dulce de leche Haagen-Dazs, and for a while last year the Mars candy folks were even test-marketing dulce de leche M&M’s. Not bad for something that was once found exclusively in South American restaurants,
Although dulce de leche has a complex, almost nutty flavor, it’s remarkably simple stuff: just milk, sugar, and sodium bicarbonate (commonly known as baking soda), which serves as an emulsifier. It’s native to Argentina, where it’s essentially the national dessert, poured over ice cream, pastries, fruit, and just about anything else that doesn’t move, and also enjoyed straight out of the jar. Annual per-capita consumption in Argentina is in the 10-pound range (think about that—the mind fairly boggles), a fitgure boosted by the fact that dulce de leche is even fed to Argentinian babies because of its high calcium content. Got milk, indeed.
The standard story, perhaps coincidental, is that dulce de leche was invented by accident in 1829, (Col. 2—ed.) when a servant was preparing lechada (boiled milk and sugar) for an Argentinian general and mistakenly left the pot unattended over the fire. The general later found the concoction, which had turned brown, gooey, and delicious, dipped a baguette into it, and dulce de leche was born. Although the preparation soon spread to other South American countries and to Europe, the Argentinian rendition is reputedly still the best. Food scientists will tell you this because Argentinian cows graze in the vast prairies known as the pampas, whose grasslands produce high-quality milk rich in conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids; others say Argentinians just know how to make dulce de leche, just as New Yorkers know how to make pizza.
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Thursday, January 31, 2008 • Permalink
You cannot say with certainty that Dulce de Leche comes from Argentina. Although lesser known to us there is another country that also has stories about being the “inventor” of Dulce de Leche. I’m referring to Uruguay. Many people tend to ignore that Tango also grew in Uruguay at the same time as in Argentina and many tangoes get referred to as argentinean when they are not. Namely “La Cumparsita” perhaps the anthem of tangoes is from uruguayan composer Matos Rodriguez and Gardel was born in Tacuarembo, Uruguay. It is very possible that the truth is somewhere between these two countries, but naming one without the other one is a misinforming the readers.