With its sweet taste, soft texture and ability to dissolve quickly, powdered sugar adds sweetness and moisture to everything from frosting and icing to dusting baked goods.
What Is Powdered Sugar?
Powdered sugar, also known as confectioners' sugar or icing sugar, is white granulated sugar that has been ground into a very fine powder. It has a smooth, silky texture that dissolves instantly in liquids.
To prevent clumping, 3% cornstarch is added to powdered sugar. Other anti-caking agents like potato starch or tricalcium phosphate may also be used. There are different sizes of powdered sugar based on fineness:
- 10X sugar: The most common type, ultra-fine with a grain size of 0.060 mm
- 6X sugar: More coarse with a 0.100 mm grain size, best for dusting
- 4X sugar: Coarse sugar with a grain size of 0.160 mm
Is Powdered Sugar Unhealthy?
Powdered sugar contains sucrose, which is a disaccharide made of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Table sugar also contains sucrose.
There are no nutrients in powdered sugar - it is considered an empty calorie food. The calorie content is the same as white sugar, providing 16 calories per teaspoon or 32 calories per tablespoon.
The biggest health concern with powdered sugar is that it contains added sugar. The average American consumes over 77 grams of added sugar per day, which is way above the recommended limit of 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men.
Consuming excess added sugar from foods like powdered sugar has been linked to:
- Obesity: Added sugars can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk for other health problems.
- Heart disease: Excess sugar intake raises triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, risk factors for heart disease.
- Type 2 diabetes: Sugar spikes blood glucose and insulin levels, contributing to insulin resistance over time.
- Fatty liver disease: Fructose from sugar is metabolized by the liver and can promote fatty liver.
- Tooth decay: Sugar feeds oral bacteria that produce acids leading to demineralization and dental cavities.
- Inflammation: Sugar triggers inflammatory pathways involved in the development of disease.
- Accelerated skin aging: Sugar can react with proteins to form advanced glycation end products that damage collagen.
Key Takeaway: Like other forms of added sugar, consuming too much powdered sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other problems.
What Are the Benefits of Powdered Sugar?
Despite its lack of nutrients, powdered sugar does offer some benefits when used sparingly:
- Fine texture: Powdered sugar dissolves more easily than granulated sugar and creates smooth, silky textures.
- Sweetness: The sweet taste satisfies cravings for desserts and baked goods. In moderation, sugar activates reward centers in the brain.
- Versatility: Powdered sugar works well for dusting, drizzling, icing, whipping cream, candies, etc. due to its smooth texture.
- Mouthfeel: Powdered sugar lightens the texture of frostings, doughs, and batters. It creates a pleasant sensation in the mouth.
- Browning: Powdered sugar supports Maillard reactions and caramelization which create appetizing colors and flavors.
- Preservation: The fine texture keeps baked goods from drying out quickly by retaining moisture.
So in the right amounts, powdered sugar can enhance the enjoyment of certain foods. The key is using moderation and limiting intake of added sugars in your diet.
What Is Powdered Sugar Used For?
Powdered sugar is widely used in baking and desserts for its versatility:
- Frosting and icing: Powdered sugar creates smooth, spreadable frosting and icing for cakes, cookies and more.
- Dusting desserts: A light sprinkling or dusting of powdered sugar adds sweetness and elegance to finished desserts.
- Whipped cream: Powdered sugar stabilizes whipped cream and adds sweetness.
- Glazes: Mixing powdered sugar with milk or juice makes easy drizzling glazes for desserts.
- Candy making: Powdered sugar is combined with butter for candies like peanut brittle, toffee, and brittles.
- Fondant: Powdered sugar gives an elastic texture and pliability to fondant used for cake decorating.
- Hot chocolate: Whisking powdered sugar into hot chocolate provides a richer, sweeter indulgence.
In commercial food production, powdered sugar is also used to:
- Add volume and texture to processed foods
- Absorb oil in chips, crackers, popcorn and other snacks
- Give a smooth mouthfeel to ice cream
- Prevent clumping in shredded coconut, cheese, etc. -Sweeten and thicken beverages
As you can see, powdered sugar has many roles beyond being sprinkled on top of desserts. But in all uses, moderation is still best.
How is Powdered Sugar Made?
The production process to make powdered sugar is simple:
- Milling: Granulated white sugar crystals are milled or ground down into a fine powder.
- Sifting: The powdered sugar is sifted through fine screens to remove large particles.
- Mixing: A small amount of anti-caking ingredient like cornstarch is mixed in.
- Packaging: Finally, the finished powdered sugar is packaged for distribution and sale.
Powdered sugar can also be made at home by grinding regular white sugar in a food processor or blender, then sifting. Add 1-2 teaspoons cornstarch per cup of sugar to prevent clumping and facilitate flow.
Be sure to use a blender or food processor specifically for food rather than other appliances which could add unsafe contaminants. Make powdered sugar in small batches as needed.
Can You Replace Granulated Sugar with Powdered Sugar?
Powdered sugar cannot be substituted evenly for granulated sugar in recipes. Because powdered sugar is much finer and dissolves more easily, adjustments need to be made:
- Use 20% less powdered sugar by volume to achieve similar sweetness as granulated sugar. For example, use 1/4 cup powdered sugar instead of 1/3 cup granulated sugar.
- Reduce any liquids in the recipe slightly as powdered sugar absorbs more moisture.
- Skip adding cornstarch when making your own substitute. Powdered sugar already contains cornstarch.
- Avoid substituting in recipes where texture is important, like biscuits, cookies or cakes. Powdered sugar can make the texture too dense.
- Don't use it for sugaring fruit or making syrups since it won't dissolve properly. Granulated sugar is better here.
In frostings, doughs, and recipes where texture isn't as key, you may be able to successfully use powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar through trial and error. But expect differences in the final outcome.
Is There Sugar in Powdered Sugar?
Yes, powdered sugar contains sucrose which is a combination of glucose and fructose. Powdered sugar is simply granulated white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder.
So powdered sugar contains just as much sugar as regular white sugar by weight. The difference is that powdered sugar's fine texture incorporates air and takes up more volume compared to white sugar.
For example, 1 cup of powdered sugar weighs about 4 ounces while 1 cup of granulated sugar weighs 7-8 ounces. But both contain the same 16 calories per teaspoon.
So while powdered sugar appears fluffier, it contains just as much sugar as white granulated sugar. The powdery texture results in a lighter, airier product, however.
Is Powdered Sugar Unhealthy for Diabetics?
For people with diabetes, powdered sugar is no worse than regular white sugar. Since it contains sucrose, powdered sugar will raise blood glucose and insulin levels.
However, the fine texture allows you to use less powdered sugar than granulated sugar for the same amount of sweetness. This results in slightly less impact on blood sugar.
Here are some tips for diabetics using powdered sugar:
- Monitor carb counts from powdered sugar like any other carb source
- Substitute powdered sugar for granulated sugar and reduce the amount used
- Opt for smaller serving sizes or less-sweet recipes
- Look for sugar-free powdered sugar substitutes
- Consume it along with protein, fat, fiber to blunt blood sugar spikes
- Work it into your meal plan rather than consuming alone
Moderating total carb and sugar intake over the course of the day is most important for diabetes management. Enjoy treats like powdered sugar occasionally and in small portions by accounting for it in your diet.
Does Powdered Sugar Have Gluten?
Powdered sugar does not contain any gluten. Pure powdered sugar is made from just white granulated sugar that has been ground into a powder, without any other ingredients.
Some brands add a small amount of cornstarch as an anti-caking agent, ranging from 2-5%. Cornstarch is naturally gluten-free. Other possible anti-caking ingredients like tapioca starch and potato starch are also gluten-free.
So pure powdered sugar without add-ins is safe for gluten-free diets. However, powdered sugar should always be checked for cross-contamination. It is sometimes processed on shared equipment with gluten grains.
If you need to avoid gluten, choose a certified gluten-free brand of powdered sugar that tests for cross-contamination. Or make your own at home from gluten-free sugar.
Is Powdered Sugar Keto?
Powdered sugar is not keto-friendly because it contains sucrose, a disaccharide made of glucose and fructose.
On a ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are restricted to under 50 grams per day to promote ketosis. Powdered sugar is 100% carbohydrate with no fat, protein or fiber.
Just 1/4 cup of powdered sugar contains over 30 grams of carbs, exceeding an entire day's intake on keto. Even a small amount of powdered sugar can knock you out of ketosis.
Some low-carb powdered sugar substitutes are made with sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol. These may be suitable for keto diets in moderation, but pay attention to glycemic impact and digestive tolerance.
Overall, it's best to avoid powdered sugar and use keto-friendly sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit instead. Limit all sweets when following a ketogenic diet.
Is Powdered Sugar Better Than White Sugar?
Powdered sugar and white sugar both contain sucrose and provide empty calories without nutrients. The healthiness is about the same.
But powdered sugar may have some advantages:
- Finer texture means you may be able to use less for same sweetness.
- Dissolves easily into smooth frostings, glazes and doughs.
- Absorbs moisture to prevent baked goods from drying out quickly.
- Light texture when whipped into cream or egg whites.
- Flows freely and is less likely to clump compared to granulated sugar.
However, differences are minor and do not make powdered sugar a clear winner nutritionally. As with any added sugar, practice moderation and limit daily intake from all sources for the best health.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much powdered sugar is too much?
There are no official guidelines for how much powdered sugar is excessive. But the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men.
This would equal around 6-9 teaspoons of powdered sugar. Consuming any single serving with more than this amount should be limited.
Is powdered sugar just as bad for you as regular sugar?
Powdered sugar is about the same as regular white sugar in calories and nutrition. But the powdery texture means you may be able to use less powdered sugar for the same amount of sweetness.
Overall, both should be used moderately as part of a healthy diet. Excessive intake of any added sugars can lead to health problems.
Can diabetics eat powdered sugar?
Powdered sugar affects blood sugar the same as regular sugar. But diabetics can incorporate small amounts into their diet by accounting for the carbohydrates. Moderating overall intake of sweets is most important.
Does powdered sugar cause inflammation?
Excess intake of added sugars including powdered sugar can trigger inflammatory pathways and contribute to chronic inflammation. But moderate use as part of a healthy diet does not significantly cause inflammation.
Is powdered sugar toxic?
Powdered sugar is not toxic in normal culinary use. Consuming extremely excessive amounts could potentially cause problems from nutrient imbalances or obesity. But regular use in recipes is not toxic or dangerous.
Powdered sugar can be enjoyed in moderation without guilt.
But be mindful of your overall sugar intake from all sources to avoid health problems.
Used appropriately, powdered sugar can add sweetness and texture without harm.