Abstract The genetic activity of 2 commercial caramel preparations, manufactured either by heating the malt sugar solution directly (non-ammoniated caramel) or by heating it with ammonia (ammoniated caramel) was studied in the Salmonella mutagenicity test and UDS assay in cultured mammalian cells. The non-ammoniated caramel was found to be mutagenic to S. typhimurium TA100, while the ammoniated one was genetically active in all the tester strains used, namely TA100, TA97 and TA98. It was also demonstrated that non-ammoniated caramel was capable of inducing UDS in cultured human amnion FL cells, but for the ammoniated one, no such activity was observed. Furthermore, based on the results obtained in the DNA synthesis inhibition assay, it was suggested that the DNA synthesis inhibition seen in our experiments with the ammoniated caramel was probably not of DNA damage in origin. These data indicate that the mutagenic fractions formed during ammoniated and non-ammoniated caramelization were quite different.