If you’re new to baking – or even a baking veteran for that matter – chances are you’ve already stumbled upon an ingredient that left you confused and scrambling to find a substitute. Enter four sugars: granulated sugar, powdered sugar, confectioners' sugar and icing sugar. All common ingredients in the world of baking and ones we often have individual packets of on hand. There is no difference between powdered sugar and icing sugar or between powdered sugar and confectioners' sugar; they are essentially all the same sugar, just called by different names. The difference, however, lies between powdered sugar and granulated sugar.
What Is Confectioners' Sugar?
Products marketed as confectioners' sugar by brands like Dominos are actually made using powdered sugar. Powdered sugar goes by many names, and confectioners' sugar is one of them. It's also often called icing sugar. Powdered sugar is simply made by grinding granulated sugar to a fine powder. So if a recipe calls for confectioners' sugar, just know that it's actually asking for powdered sugar, which is what you need to use.
If you’ve ever stopped to wonder whether you can substitute powdered sugar for granulated sugar, the answer is: Yes, yes you can. But, only in some circumstances, for example if the powdered sugar is made at home.
Varieties of powdered sugar are differentiated by the number of times they have been ground. A "10x" label indicates that the sugar has been ground 10 times, resulting in a very fine powder that dissolves quite easily. Granulated sugar on the other hand, does not dissolve easily and offers a more grainy texture.
Making Powdered Sugar at Home
If a recipe calls for powdered sugar, but all you have in your pantry is granulated sugar, don’t panic. Making powdered sugar at home is a very easy process. Store-bought powdered sugar is usually made by mixing refined sugar with corn starch to prevent caking, so making it at home means you leave the corn starch out of the recipe. Using a blender or spice grinder, pour in the granulated sugar and blend until the sugar turns into a fine powder. If using white granulated sugar, the resulting powdered sugar will be very fine and fluffy. You can store it indefinitely in an airtight container.
Difference Between Powdered Sugar and Granulated Sugar
The major difference between powdered sugar and granulated sugar is in the size of their particles. Granulated sugar particles are bigger and formed from large sugar granules. Powdered sugar, on the other hand, has been blended to a fine powder and is lighter and less dense. Two tablespoons of granulated sugar will produce approximately 1/4 cup of powdered sugar.
Substitute Powdered Sugar for Sugar
It’s important to note that your output of powdered sugar will be more than your input of granulated sugar. While this may be fine when making a big batch, it can become an issue for individual recipe substitutions. You require approximately half as much granulated sugar as powdered sugar. So for example, if a recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, you can substitute it with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar with no change in the overall sweetness of your recipe.
Keeping this in mind, you can successfully use homemade powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar in both tea and coffee. A good rule of thumb is to start off with less powdered sugar and add more after you taste it to make sure it’s not too sweet. Store-bought powdered sugar (often marketed under the name confectioners' sugar), on the other hand, will leave an odd aftertaste due to the presence of corn starch and is not recommended for use.
However, while some recipes use powdered sugar with corn starch to help thicken the sauces, others, like a cooked sauce, may end up too thick and not the desired consistency if using store-bought powdered sugar. Powdered sugar is also not a good substitute for recipes that need air incorporated into a batter, for example, when you're creaming butter and sugar together. Bigger sugar granules are necessary in the dough-making process, as granulated sugar absorbs water and has a larger surface area for tenderizing the mixture.
Christabel Lobo is a freelance writer focusing on all-things food, travel, and wellness. Her writing has appeared in Tenderly, SilverKris, Byrdie, Trivago, Open Skies, Fodor’s, London’s Evening Standard, Silkwinds, HuffPost, Barclays Travel, Pint Size Gourmets, and on her personal yoga & travel blog, Where’s Bel. Feel free to check out her design and writing portfolio: christabel.co