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whats the difference between the two sugars?

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vince hav's picture
vince hav

whats the difference between the two sugars?

whats the difference between confectioners sugar and powder sugar?

proth5's picture
proth5

While some quick research validates that there are many different grades and a few variants of these sugars, in common use confectioner's sugar and powdered sugar are the same.


Hope this is helpful.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Stir a spoon of each into a glass of water, any starch will settle as a white powder to the bottom. 


When I discovered this, I started making my own by processing crystal sugar into powder. Usually if the sugar doesn't clump, there is a good chance there is starch in it.


Mini

proth5's picture
proth5

Powdered/confectioner's sugar is made by pulverising sugar crystals which means that they will easily form clumps when exposed to moisture.  A starch is added (usually cornstarch) so that the sugar will not clump. 


There are some industrial grades of this sugar that do not contain starch, but anything available to someone who is asking if there is a difference will contain starch.  There is no difference.  Two terms for the same thing.

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

And point out that it depends on where you happen to be.


In some countries, there's powdered sugar, which is finely ground sugar with nothing else. In others, the term is interchangeable with "confectioner's sugar' which has 3-5% cornstarch. Then in some countries, there's "fruit sugar' which is, again, just finely ground sugar crystals, often used in bar drinks as it dissolves rapidly. Then there's "castor sugar" and other names common in some places and unheard of elsewhere.


You can hunt up your country's sugar board's website and they'll give you the locally valid definitions. Powdered sugar and Confectioner's sugar may be the same or they may be different where you happen to be.


What applies in the USA or the UK doesn't necessarily apply everywhere else.

proth5's picture
proth5

Sheesh and you would think that by now I would have figured out that things are different in other countries than the US.


OK, in the US they are the same...That, I know...


I'll take the hit for the lack of multi cultural awareness, but now I'm curious.  In what country would they have sugar types that would be called both "powdered" and "confectioner's" sugar, one with cornstarch (and technically, if you look it up, not always cornstarch), the other not?  I'm just wondering because in the UK it's actually called "icing sugar" and in France it is "sucre glace" (and contains silica) so the confusion hardly takes place in those languages.  We've now run out of countries where I speak the language well enough to make subtle sugar distinctions.  "Castor" sugar in the UK is something completely different, equating to superfine sugar in the US.  I'm just wondering, because you brought up the possibility and that's kind of interesting.


I still have a feeling that in the context of this particular question I am correct, but thanks for the reminder and the education.

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

I hope I wasn't coming across as 'chiding' in that previous post, I was simply hoping to point out that there may be differences in labelling practices in different countries and that one is well served to look up what the Sugar Institute (or whatever board handles sugar there) defines as what.


I was basing this response on a thread I read way back when on a cake decorating site - where members are rather finicky about sugar - where someone basically asked the same thing and was told that indeed, the terms were interchangeable. Some member(s?) from other countries popped in and disagreed, saying that they had found a difference, that the powdered was coarser which resulted in gritty icing and they had to specifically get confectioners.


I've gone looking for that cake forum but either it's defunct (if it's the one I recall) or I just can't find the thread, so I am unable to specify what country that member was from. So I'm going simply by memory here.


I do recollect the thread went on to discuss the confusion with the various names and grades of sugar, like cater/castor, superfine, bar. fruit, icing, pure icing, etc.. the consensus was basically: it varies by locality and manufacturer and there's much overlap and befuddlement. 


We should also note a difference between what official terms are and what someone may casually call "powdered". I'd say this is especially possible if one uses a recipe off the internet where local colloquialism are more likely to pop up, vs a printed source which is more likely to be researched.


While trying to find that original discussion, I'm pulling a number of sugar pages and I'm beginning to suspect the "member(s?) from other countries" may have been referring to what we'd likely call "superfine" or "castor" sugar which are not ground but the finest sized crystals. So I'll amend my original point to "Depends on your country" AND "depends on whether you're referring to official vs common terms".


But your point is certainly correct: at least in the US, and likely elsewhere, "powdered" is equivalent to "confectioners" - a very fine ground sugar with ~3% added cornstarch (or equivalent) as an anti-caking agent.


And to clarify, I don't think you'd find "powdered sugar" to be the same fine product as "icing sugar" but without the starch as this would too easily turn into a solid sugar brick at the slightest exposure to humidity. If you were to find them side by side on a store shelf, I'd assume one was coarser. According to Rose Levy Beranbaum's dissertation on sugar, they can grind crystals to different sizes using varying degrees of fine mesh.


http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/2005/12/sugar.html


I'll point out that she, too, specifies that powdered and confectioners are the same.


And of course, all of this issue is the fault of the internet. 20 years ago if someone asked this, there'd be little chance of the same issue coming up, they'd be standing right in front of you and you'd know what happens in, say, Italy would be irrelevant. But today, you have to account for all the different situations around the world since the person asking could be just a few miles away or on the other side of the globe and unless they say so, you can't really know.


Darn internet. 

proth5's picture
proth5

it probably did come across more negatively than you meant it to, but as you may have read elsewhere, I've had a tough week.


I also searched in vain for any "Sugar board" references, because I'm a compulsive sort and really did wonder where these terms might be used to mean different things.  I'm a compulsive sort of person.  You may have gathered that.


I could have gone on in my original answer to explain various grades of this sugar (and was careful to say "in common usage"), but I figured that the OP was just experiencing confusion with common American English terms and didn't want a whole disertation.


Which is evidenced by the fact that we've taken this discussion more to heart than the OP.


Peace.

vince hav's picture
vince hav

its ok i sort of enjoy the education. if one person would have just said "they are the same" i would have wondered why they have two different names...


what got me to wondering was a cinnamon roll recipe that called for  powdered sugar and lemon juice for a frosting..i have some confectioners sugar and used that an to be honest it was just nasty tasteing to me..an a friend laughed at me and said i should have followed recipe and used powdered sugar. that made me wonder what the difference is..


thanks for everyones input on the subject.

proth5's picture
proth5

That "nasty" taste could be the result of the raw cornstarch in the sugar.  Or you just don't like lemon.


I do find it interesting that one respected food writer says that powdered/confectioner's sugar is best for use in cooked products, and another tells us that these variously named sugars are best for uncooked products.


Seems that sugar has the same terminology problems as bread...


And I had a feeling someone who used those terms was in the US...

vince hav's picture
vince hav

actually i love lemon.


i just felt it looked better than it tastes and i could mostly tastes the confectioners sugar which doesnt taste the same as regular sugar so it was just nasty to me.


haha an i had a spanish guy tell me that the american language was very hard to learn because we have one name for so many things.


he used "nut" as an example..thers the "nut" related to food like an almond then theres the "nut" that goes on a bolt and then theres the "nut" that lives in the institution for mentally insane..


so it doesnt surprise me that we have sugars with two names that are the same

vince hav's picture
vince hav

haha well rainbowz im in mississippi usa

vince hav's picture
vince hav

thats interesting food science thanks

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

if the sugar doesn't clump it contains starch.    So now they put it in both! bummer.   Thanks Pat.   Must they mention it on the package as well?   I discovered differences back in 1990 when using some confectioner's sugar to sweeten ice tea.  Why was the tea so cloudy?


Years ago I changed to making my own in a blender.  It was easier, much more economical and I know what's in my food.  I only make what I need.  Weigh out the amount and pulverize it.  So now in American/UK recipes, I have to think there may be 3% corn starch in there as well.  :(


Mini

proth5's picture
proth5

In the US they are exactly the same - and they must label it that way - in the US...

vince hav's picture
vince hav

of course then you have "cane" sugar to add to the array of sugars to think about..


and then there is useing "honey" in place of sugar for a healthyer recipe..


where does the madness end???haha

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

products that have no volume.  Like super concentrated crystals (it's happening) that weigh so much less.  Then what do we use for "filler" in a recipe?  Just think...maybe 100 years from now, future bakers will wonder what "sugar" is? " A  whole cup! That can't be right!!! I'd believe a pinch but not a cup!"  And a new product comes out: "filler"  whatever that may be.  "Use directly in your food replicator!"


The best part about making your own powdered sugar is that you can use dry brown sugar!  I have not yet seen brown powdered sugar.  That might be good with the cinn. cake and to make it fluid, try a few spoonfulls of milk/vanilla extract.


Mini

proth5's picture
proth5

we still have the nagging question "If they are the same (and in the USA they are - I think we've established that) why the different names?"


I don't think I have the strength.


Powdered brown sugar, huh?  Sounds good. Let us know.

RiverWalker's picture
RiverWalker

I was once told (after having noobishly botched an icing recipe) that one kind of sugar dissolves and acts like LIQUID and the other dissolves and acts like a DRY ingredient, now is this a matter of the starch in the sugar?

I mean, in one of the recipe books I have it says that for brownies, for example, if you use castor sugar, or whatever, (the finer-ground granulated sugar) then the brownies will get the sometimes-desired crackly skin thing on top, or something like that, due to how it dissolves.

now for this, or for other ingredients that simply use sugar(such as bread) in order to make it dissolve easier/faster/ect can you simply toss some sugar into a coffee grinder and powder it that way? or somehow(damaging the structure, or something maybe? hellifiknow) does this make the sugar react differently?