Bean Paste Vs. Buttercream

Bean paste and buttercream are two popular mediums used for decorating cakes with intricate piping and flowers.

Bean Paste Vs. Buttercream

Both offer unique properties, advantages, and challenges when it comes to cake artistry.

What Is Bean Paste

Bean paste refers to a sweet paste made from cooked and mashed white beans that is used for modeling sugar flowers and other cake decorations. Beans like cannellini, navy, or lima beans are commonly used. The paste consists mainly of puréed beans along with sugar for sweetness and sometimes dairy products for texture.

Making your own bean paste involves simmering beans until soft, puréeing, straining, and mixing with sugar and other ingredients. You can also adjust the sweetness and consistency as needed. The resulting paste can be colored and modeled into flowers, figurines, borders, and various cake embellishments.

Key Takeaway: Bean paste is a pliable, sweet white bean purée used to hand-model cake decorations like sugar flowers.

Some key advantages of using bean paste include:

  • Pliable texture - Bean paste can be rolled, shaped, and molded similarly to fondant or gum paste. The pliability allows for delicate detailing.
  • Translucent finish - The paste has a semi-translucent quality that gives decorations a more natural, subtle look. Light reflects and colors blend beautifully.
  • Softness - Decorations made with bean paste have an appealing softness and flexibility, unlike rigid gum paste flowers. It has a sweet flavor similar to adzuki bean paste.
  • Affordability - Since the main ingredient is basic white beans, making your own bean paste is very affordable compared to buying specialized sugarcraft ingredients.

However, there are some downsides as well:

  • Time-consuming prep - Making bean paste requires lengthy prep work of soaking, cooking, straining, and processing the beans. It can take hours from start to finish.
  • Shorter shelf-life - The flowers and decorations may not hold up as long as gum paste ones. Keeping them away from humidity is key.
  • Limited availability - You typically need to make your own paste, as ready-made bean paste for cake decorating is not yet widely available commercially.

What Is Buttercream

Buttercream frosting has long been the popular choice for frosting and decorating cakes. Traditional buttercream consists of butter, sugar, milk or cream, and flavorings whipped to a light, creamy texture. Variations range from simple butter and powdered sugar mixes to more complex recipes using sugar syrups and egg whites.

When used for piping flowers and decorations, a stiff buttercream is required. Common styles include American, Swiss, Italian, and French meringue-based buttercreams due to their stability and ability to hold shape well. These are piped using specialized tips into roses, peonies, carnations, and other realistic blossoms to adorn cakes.

While versatile and delicious, some downsides of buttercream for cake art include:

  • Difficult precision - Buttercream can be challenging to pipe precisely, quickly loses shape in warm conditions, and doesn't offer as much detailing capability.
  • Limited colors - Achieving brightly vivid colors is difficult without thinning the consistency. Only soft, pastel hues are easily achievable.
  • High sugar content - Most buttercreams rely heavily on powdered sugar for structure, making them intensely sweet. This may limit servings for some.

Comparison of Texture and Workability

A key difference between bean paste and buttercream is the texture and workability of each medium.

Bean paste has an exceptionally smooth, pliable dough-like texture. Similar to other sugarcraft pastes like fondant or gum paste, the malleable bean paste can be effortlessly rolled very thin, textured with veins or small cuts, and shaped into delicate features. Flowers, leaves, figurines, and other decorations retain detail and shape very well once set.

In contrast, the soft buttercream texture, while light and fluffy, tends to limit fine detailing. Piped designs like basic roses or abstract patterns work best. Intricate shaping is difficult as the buttercream starts spreading or losing shape quickly, especially in warmer conditions. So precision and retention of delicate shapes pose challenges.

However, bean paste may dry and crack if rolled too thin, unlike more forgiving buttercream. Bean paste decorations are also more fragile and prone to breaking once dry. Thin-petaled flowers may shatter if not handled gently.

Workability is the length of time each material remains malleable and useable during application. Buttercreams typically need to be used soon after whipping since they can warm up, soften, and lose stability quickly. Bean paste dough remains workable at room temperature for 1-2 hours generally, allowing more creativity and customization as you work before it dries and sets.

Key Takeaway: Bean paste offers superior molding ability for fine details, while buttercream suits simple piped designs best. Bean paste flowers keep shape longer off the cake.

Achieving Realistic Colors

Vibrant, gorgeous colors are essential for realistic, nature-inspired floral cake designs. Both bean paste and buttercream offer coloring options, but with some limitations.

Bean Paste Colors

Bean paste, with its semi-opaque canvas, displays colors beautifully. Light reflects through the subtle translucence, evoking a depth and dimension that looks very natural on delicate flower petals and leaves.

You can achieve striking results by mixing gel paste or powdered food colors into plain white bean paste. Even vivid tones like crimson, emerald, and sunflower hues transfer well. The paste blends and graduates colors naturally too without having to paint on effects.

Since bean paste remains malleable longer than buttercream, you have more flexibility to create ombre petals, contrasting color variations, or mix custom shades as you shape the decorations. Cooler color tones may appear slightly muted compared to warm ones though in finished pieces.

Overall, bean paste takes color enhancements very well for cake art needs. The colors also remain truer over time without bleeding or weeping like buttercream flowers might.

Buttercream Colors

Buttercream can absolutely be tinted into lovely colors from soft pastels to deeper tones. But since buttercream lacks translucence, achieving the same level of realism as bean paste is nearly impossible.

The most natural effect comes from subtle, diluted colors. Pale hues spanning mint, lavender, peach and more have an appealing delicacy when piped into flower shapes or borders.

Unfortunately, richer shades tend to look somewhat flat or opaque on buttercream. Deep reds, purples, and oranges will not show the same dimensionality or gradation of color that bean paste can. And blue undertones can develop in some darker colors.

For best results, use gel food paste for intensity without thinning the buttercream too much. Advanced techniques like brushing petal dusts can enhance appearance slightly. But vibrancy is still limited.

Table comparing achievable colors:

MediumSoft huesVivid huesColor blending/graduationDimensionality
Bean pasteExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellent

Taste and Food Sensitivities

For many cake decorators and consumers, taste is an essential factor when choosing a decorating medium. Both bean paste and buttercream offer sweet flavor but different nutrition profiles.

Bean paste develops its sweetness mainly from added sugar rather than complex carbohydrates like buttercream. With a lower sugar content overall, the paste provides a subtler sweetness than you'd expect. The white bean base lends a nutty, vanilla-like undertone.

People describe the taste as a cross between sweet rice paste and sweetened red bean paste. The mild, slightly starchy flavor works wonderfully in small accents on cakes. It may overpower in large quantities though.

In contrast, rich buttercream relies on loads of powdered sugar for structural stability. This makes traditional buttercream frosting intensely sweet and rich-sometimes too much so for enjoyment. Bean paste offers a lower-sugar alternative.

Additionally, bean paste is dairy-free and vegan by nature, unlike butter-based buttercreams. This makes decorating with bean paste more accessible for people with food sensitivities. Simple ingredient subs like vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk allow even those avoiding butter, eggs, or milk to work with modified buttercreams.

Cost and Convenience Factors

Convenience and affordability may also help determine whether bean paste or buttercream better suits your cake decoration needs.

Bean paste ingredients like white beans, sugar, corn syrup or cream are very economical. Making your own paste only requires a few affordable kitchen staples without specialized tools. However, with lengthy prep and cooking methods, labor represents the main cost. Making bean paste requires patience and work versus quickly whipping up buttercream.

Whipping up buttercream frosting with common baking ingredients offers much more convenience for hurried decorators. It can be ready to pipe in less than 15 minutes in some recipes. Decorators also appreciate keeping stored tubs or powder mixes on hand for last-minute needs. However, some specialty buttercreams involve pricier ingredients like chocolate, liqueurs, premium nut butters, etc.

Currently, ready-made bean paste for sugarcraft uses is not widely available. So you'll need to make your own ahead of cake decorating sessions. This makes planning ahead essential. In contrast, premade buttercream frosting and mixes offer grab-and-go convenience.

Here is a cost and convenience comparison:

MediumIngredient costsTools/MaterialsPreparation TimeAvailability of Ready-made ProductCleanup Time
Bean PasteLowMinimalLengthy (several hours)Low availabilityMinimal dishes
ButtercreamVariesMinimalVery quickHigh availabilitySome dishes

Achieving Specific Effects

Certain decorative effects like delicate ruffles or intricate lace patterns may influence whether bean paste or buttercream works better.

Bean Paste Effects

The malleable texture makes bean paste ideal for modeling ultra-delicate sugar flowers and accents. Thin petals, tiny flower buds, and detailed leaves or collars take shape beautifully.

Techniques like texturing with small cuts or veiners, thin frilling, and edge ruffling translate very realistically in bean paste. Intricately patterned lacework and filigree collars also produce nicely. Edges and fine details hold shape better than buttercream allows.

However, some downsides exist. Very thin structures risk drying rapidly and becoming brittle. And environmental humidity can shorten shelf life. Proper storage is key.

Buttercream Effects

While intricate sculpting proves difficult, buttercream's key strength lies in bold color contrast and abstract patterns.

Vivid ombré or color splash effects make a visually striking statement, like vibrant yellow and orange tiger lilies over a rich chocolate cake. Abstract dots, spikes in contrasting colors, and playful swirling accents also suit buttercream's fluid, malleable nature well.

For dimension, quick texturing by imprinting doilies, brushing color shimmers, or light overpiping creates interest too. But overall, buttercream decorations tend to appear somewhat flat or shapeless as finer details soften over time.


Can I flavor bean paste or buttercream?

Yes, both bean paste and buttercream can be flavored by mixing in extracts, oils, liqueurs, nut butters, fruit purées, etc. However, strong flavors may overpower bean paste's delicate nuttiness.

How long do decorations last?

With proper storage away from humidity, bean paste decorations last 1-3 weeks typically while buttercream ones just 1-4 days max. Refrigeration prolongs buttercream longevity slightly but ruins bean paste's malleable texture.

Can I use salted butter?

For optimal taste and structure, use unsalted butter. Salt inhibits incorporation of air and sugar for ideal texture. However, small amounts of salted butter are fine. Just balance sweetness accordingly.

What glue works best to attach decorations?

For bean paste decorations that dry completely rigid, royal icing glue works wonderfully. Fresh flower paste or piping a dot of buttercream ensures better adhesion to flexible buttercream decorations.


Bean paste and buttercream both have unique strengths when it comes to elevating cakes with artistic touches.

Bean paste wins in its remarkable ability to mimic nature's delicate beauty with stunning realistic detail in sugar flowers and accents. Its natural transparency, flexibility, and pale color versatility offer cake artists an edible pastel palette suiting realistic needs.

For maximum visual drama from vivid colors and playful textures, buttercream is better. While intricate shaping poses challenges, abstract colorful piped patterns and textures deliver beautiful dimensions too. Availability and convenience of ready-to-use buttercream also appeal to hurried bakers aiming more for whimsy over realism.

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