Sugar-Free Vegan Caramel Apples

Did you love caramel and candy apples as a kid?

Sugar-free caramel apples by Dreena Burton, Plant-Powered Kitchen #vegan #glutenfree

I sure did, though as a juvenile junk-food-junkie, I opted to eat the caramel or candy – but leave the apple behind (so sad)!  Don’t believe this ‘Queen Bean’ had such a penchant for junk? … Proof that my sweet tooth started pretty darn early… frosting was my gateway to mars bars, fun dip, Mackintosh’s toffee, and pixy sticks.

2 year old sugar boost!

These days I prefer a treat without the processed sugars, chemicals and colors… and a caramel apple that won’t pull out a filling! (The candy of my youth has provided comfortable living for quite a few dentists!)

In my prevegan days, I once made more traditional caramel apples. They were messy, sticky, and SO much clean-up. I can assure you these caramel apples are far easier – yes, some prep and cleaning, but much simpler.

These apples are made with a date caramel, which is pretty effortless compared to stovetop caramel – it just requires a couple of steps (soaking the dates, then draining and processing with a few other ingredients).  Once the caramel is made, you smooth a layer around your apples of choice, and add a coating (if you like).  Here is the caramel, up close!

Let’s talk about the apples for a moment…

I think one of the reasons I never cared much for the actual apple part in those candy and caramel apples of my youth is because it was typically a McIntosh apple.  I’m not a fan of McIntosh apples to begin with – a little sour and mealy for my liking, I prefer a crisp, crunchy, sweet apple like Gala, Fuji, Spartan, or Sweet Orin.  So, as a kid, to bite through a sweet, sticky caramel coating into a sour apple… not my idea of food fun.  Might be appreciated by older kids and adults, but for me – did NOT work.

You can choose any apple you like for these treats, but I opt for one of the sweeter, crisper varieties mentioned above.  Then… for coatings.  In these photos you’ll see I”ve used coconut (unsweetened), and also grated chocolate (use a vegetable peeler to get some shavings from a chocolate bar).  Obviously if using the dark chocolate these apples aren’t entirely sugar-free – but with a good quality, higher cocoa content dark chocolate, the sugar content is much lower than a milk chocolate.  Then, do you see the other coating?  That is almond meal!  I think it is fabulous with the caramel. You could also combine the almond meal with dark chocolate, that would be incredible. At first, I wasn’t sure if the almond meal would fly, but it DOES.  And, because it is much finer than chopped nuts, it holds to the caramel very well!

I think I’ve talked enough, it’s time to snack! Enjoy…

Healthy, Sugar-Free Vegan Caramel Apples gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free

RECIpage link to print/share

1 1/2 cups pitted dates, lightly packed

1/2 cup plain non-dairy milk (to soak dates)

3 1/2 – 4 tbsp raw cashew butter (see note and can substitute)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean)

1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

couple pinches freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

4-6 organic apples (or more, depending on size)

popsicle sticks or spoons

Coatings: unsweetened shredded coconut, grated chocolate, mini chocolate chips, chopped dried cranberries, almond meal!, chopped pecans, etc.

First, combine the dates with the non-dairy milk in a bowl.  Let soak for about an hour.  Then, drain the dates, gently pushing the excess milk through a sieve.  In a food processor, combine the dates with the cashew butter, vanilla, and sea salt (and nutmeg, if using).  Process until very smooth, scraping down the processor bowl as needed, and puree again.  This will take several minutes.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate.  When ready to coat your apples, insert a popsicle stick into the stem end of each apple (if you don’t have any sticks handy, try inverting a spoon so you insert the handle into the apple and you hold the rounded ‘spoon’ end).  Then, simply lift the apple and use a butter knife or spatula to coat your apples with the caramel (not too thick as the caramel is very sweet, but thick enough for it to be substantial and for the toppings to adhere).  Place in a container or on a tray or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and serve, or refrigerate for up to a day before serving.

Nut butter Notes:  I really like raw cashew butter in this caramel for a couple of reasons.  First, it is a very thick/dense nut butter, so it helps make the caramel a little thicker.  Second, it has a mellow, soft taste that works well in this caramel.  But, you could substitute regular cashew butter, or raw/regular almond butter, or macadamia butter.  So, for best flavor I’d choose either cashew, almond, or macadamia nut butter.  If you have a nut allergy, you can either opt for sunflower butter (and maybe add some cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice – it IS pumpkinfest! – to the mixture to bump up the flavor), or omit altogether and just have a date paste.  This also works if you want to reduce the fat content in the caramel – you can either reduce the nut butter or omit it altogether.

Kitchen Tip:  This makes a softer caramel, easy for spreading.  If you’d like a firmer caramel, simply omit the soaking step, and combine the dates with the cashew buttter (or other nut butter), using the full 4 tbsp (1/4 cup).  The mixture will form into a ball in the food processor.  You can use it to roll for little chewable caramels for children that can be left as is, or coated in grated chocoate (or ground chocolate chips).

Leftovers?: If you have leftover date caramel, it can be kept in a container, refrigerated, for a week or longer.  Use it as a spread for toast, sliced apple or pear, muffins, crisp breads, etc.

Have you ever made caramel apples?  What is your apple of choice?

This recipe has been submitted for the FoodiePages CHEF’S BOX Challenge – wish me luck!


  1. says

    Looks tasty!!!! … but what about some coconut sugar sweetened chocolate for the dark chocolate option?! Zimt to the rescue, Dreena, you need a topper upper!

  2. Erin says

    Ooooh, these look good. And for the chocolate kick without the sugar you could sprinkle raw cacao nibs on them. Will definitely be making soon!

  3. Marie-Eve says

    Amazing!!!! I was just thinking that I wanted to make caramel apples for my eldest daughter’s upcoming 4th birthday party (3 July). I was really dreading the research and trial and error I was going to have to go through to find a healthy version. I am so excited I just fell upon this this morning.
    I was given your “Let them eat vegan” book for Christmas and it is now my go to baking and all vegan cooking bible. I LOVE it!!! Every single recipe I have tried has been delicious, so I know for a fact that these are going to be awesome!!! Thank you!!

  4. Lauren Pifher says

    This recipe is delicious! Thanks for sharing. I am vegan and work at the health food store so this is the perfect Christmas gift to bring in for my co workers :)

  5. says

    I love caramel apples! I’ve never made my own, but love the idea of making a caramel apple with more natural ingredients. Personally though, I love getting a sour apple like a Granny Smith in my caramel apples. The contrast of the sweet and sour keeps it from getting too sickly :)
    Marianne recently posted..Spooky BrewsMy Profile

    • Dreena says

      Hi Marianne – well these are super easy to make! I totally understand the contrast of sweet to sour, makes absolute sense, so by all means use them in this recipe! (and I wish I liked those sour apples myself!) Thanks…

  6. Laurie says

    Your ideas are always so creative!! I wanted to let you know that I finally got around to making your Cinnamon Cookie Dough Bars and they are absolutely INCREDIBLE!!! Honestly, I think they are pure genius and now I’ve made them several times. I roll them into balls for easy transport. I think they will be coming to Iceland next month with me (we’re going to see the Northern Lights)! Thank you so much for all of your yummy ideas.

    • Dreena says

      That is SO very kind, thank you Laurie. I love those cinnamon dough bars so much too – I think they taste better than I can communicate in a recipe name!! Thank you for such a cheery note, and wow – have fun on that trip!!

  7. says

    These look like a great, fun idea. And I like the fact that the date caramel is far less unruly and sticky and gooey and fally-offy than sugar based stuff. And I think the fruit and nut notes will go wonderfully with the fruit. But I’ve never had a caramel apple – they’re not at all common here!

  8. Rosanne says

    What a great candy substitute this can be for us at Halloween time! One question though….I have been to 3 stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts) and none of them carry honey dates. Can I substitute Medjool dates?

    • Dreena says

      Rosanne, absolutely you can use medjool dates, I just like to be specific in my recipes which dates I use. Oh, and I buy the honey dates at walmart, so you might find them there if you shop there at all. Good luck… enjoy!

  9. says

    gorgeous and yummy-looking! lovely, Dreena :) I was just making some cocoa-date balls today, this is a great way to do something different with dates! I never liked caramel apples, but I think these look delish. And I used to LOVE licking the beaters when I was little, too!! oh, the simple joys… actually, I still lick the beaters – they’re just covered in things like your date caramel now 😉 I just can’t let any little bits go to waste! I also take a spatula to the mixing bowl…..

    • Dreena says

      hey thanks Heather!! And, eating the batter/frosting/dough… best, best part of vegan baking 😀 (I scrape every little bit out of bowls and processors too – and tell people in my recipes to do the same, haha!)

  10. Christy B says

    These look fabulous! I can’t wait to try out this recipe. THANK YOU for including a nut-free option! My children have peanut and tree nut allergies. Your recipes are delicious and nutritious!

    • Dreena says

      You’re welcome Christy. I know, a lot of healthy vegan recipes use nuts (mine included). The caramel is very good without any nut butter, just a little softer. So you can blend it without any seed butter, taste it, and then adjust from there to your liking. Def some cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice will make the seed butter tastier in there! Enjoy!!

  11. Georgina says

    Dreena, these are fabulous! I often lost fillings with the hard. Sugar coated apples. I can’t believe how good this recipe looks! Will definitely try them!

  12. says

    You really outdid yourself here! These look amazing and what gorgeous shots. I had to laugh at the photo of wee Dreena. You know, you still look the same–I would totally know it was you. But oy! The stuff we ate in our misspent youths, huh?

    Announcing your contest winner tonite :)

    • Dreena says

      HA!… really Dynise, you recognize grown-up me there? Must be the frosted beater giving me away, lol! Thanks so much. xo

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge