This kept me from going off the rails during Whole30
Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

Last year, in an effort to recover from the overabundant eating and drinking from the holiday season, my husband and I embarked, as many do, on Whole30—a 30-day (or longer) elimination diet intended to assess the impact certain foods have on your particular body. While a lot of the restrictions the program requires were actually not difficult, there were a few times that we needed some sort of substitute for sweetener that wasn’t sugar or artificial. After all, it is one thing to restrict your own intake for a short time, but we weren’t going to forgo entertaining at home for a whole month. I needed a way to have some sort of dessert on the table for dinner parties without derailing our program.

That became a rotation of grilled fruit, topped with a bit of whipped coconut “cream,” and drizzled with a sort of a sauce that I made from reducing unsweetened pineapple juice to a thick glaze with a bit of vanilla paste. The concentrated natural juices from the pineapple became a sort of a loose caramel sauce that was great with all kinds of fruit, and with some toasted coconut flakes or almond slivers, an approved dessert that still felt celebratory.

Luckily we are back to usual eating, but in the summer I am always looking for a light way to have a dessert that feels like a treat, but isn’t too terrible for us. Enter watermelon caramel sauce. I love regular caramel sauce, but with all the butter and cream, it is a special occasion indulgence. Following the same principle as the pineapple juice reduction, but with the addition of some sugar, watermelon caramel is a sticky fruity way to top ice cream or frozen yogurt to make a fun summer sundae with no added fat, or drizzle over grilled fruit. It is also vegan, in case you need something like that in your back pocket.

I use some red pepper flakes and vanilla in mine, to punch up the flavors, but you can leave them both out. I also like a mix of regular and brown sugar to add some depth, but it will work fine with all of either. Use what you have on hand. When it cools it will thicken, but you can reheat it in a water bath or the microwave to make it pourable again. You can try the technique with any fruit juice, I use watermelon because the season is upon us, but experiment with other melons, or even root vegetable juices like carrot or beet.

Watermelon Caramel Sauce

Serves 8


6 cups cubed watermelon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
Pinch salt


Blend the watermelon cubes, in batches if necessary, in your blender then using a fine mesh strainer, strain out the solids from the juice. You should end up with around 1 quart of juice. If you have access to fresh watermelon juice, just use a quart of that.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring the juice to a steady low boil and continue to cook until it has reduced to about a cup and a half, this could take as much as 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over.

Once the juice is reduced, stir in both sugars until completely dissolved, then add the vanilla and pepper jelly if using. Continue cooking the mixture for another 9 to 14 minutes until thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pinch of salt. Let cool before using. You can store it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.