Granulated vs Powdered White Sugar in Cooking

In the culinary world, sugar is a staple ingredient, but not all sugars are created equal.

A measuring spoon scoops granulated sugar, while a sifter dusts powdered sugar over a cake

Granulated white sugar is what you commonly use as table sugar. It’s a highly versatile sweetener that dissolves well in various mixtures, making it a favorite for both cooking and baking.

Chemically, it’s known as sucrose and is crystalline in nature, refined from either sugarcane or sugar beets.

You’ll find it invaluable when creating syrups, baking cookies, or sweetening your coffee, as it integrates smoothly without altering the texture of your final product.

Powdered white sugar, also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar, is granulated sugar ground to a fine powder and often includes a small amount of anti-caking agent such as cornstarch.

Its fine texture allows it to dissolve swiftly and is perfect for icings, frostings, and glazes where a smooth consistency is key.

However, this same fine quality means it is more susceptible to moisture and clumping, so storing it properly in an airtight container away from light and moisture is important to maintain its quality.

Overview of Sugar Types

When baking or cooking, you often have to choose between granulated white sugar and powdered white sugar. Each type has distinct properties that affect your recipes differently.

Granulated White Sugar

What it is: Granulated white sugar is the most common sugar found in your pantry. It is derived from either sugar cane or sugar beets and is recognizable by its white, crystalline appearance.

The crystals are medium-sized, making it versatile for a wide range of cooking and baking applications.

Uses in Cooking: Due to its fine yet granular texture, granulated sugar dissolves well in various mixtures without altering the consistency significantly.

It’s your go-to sweetener for beverages, sauces, and as the foundational sweetness in baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pastries.

Powdered White Sugar

What it is: Powdered white sugar, also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar, results from grinding granulated sugar into a fine powder and often includes a small amount of cornstarch to prevent caking.

Uses in Cooking: This fine textured sugar dissolves almost instantly, making it ideal for icings, frostings, and glazes, where a smooth, lump-free consistency is paramount.

Powdered sugar’s ability to blend seamlessly into mixtures also makes it a popular dusting for desserts, adding both a touch of sweetness and an attractive finish.

Physical Characteristics

When working with white sugar in your culinary endeavors, understanding the physical characteristics of granulated and powdered sugar is crucial. These differences will influence the texture and moisture behavior in your recipes.

Texture Comparisons

Granulated sugar is characterized by its coarse crystals that are distinct, hard, and do not clump easily.

This granular texture is ideal for creating aeration in doughs and batters, providing a stable structure for baked goods.

  • Granulated Sugar: Coarse, crystalline texture; less prone to clumping.
  • Powdered Sugar: Fine, powdery texture; clumps due to small particle size and moisture absorption.

Dissolution Properties

The dissolution rate of sugar is influenced by the size of its crystals.

Granulated sugar, with its larger crystals, dissolves slowly and requires more time and stirring, especially in cold liquids.

Powdered sugar, containing extremely fine crystals and often a small percentage of cornstarch to prevent clumping, will dissolve quickly as its increased surface area interacts with moisture.

  • Granulated Sugar: Dissolves slowly, ideal for structural integrity.
  • Powdered Sugar: Dissolves rapidly, best for smooth textures.

Usage in Baking

When you bake, the type of sugar you choose has a significant impact on the outcome of your desserts. The use of granulated vs powdered white sugar can affect texture and flavor profiles differently.

Effects on Cake and Cookie Texture

Granulated Sugar:

  • Cakes: Using granulated sugar in cake batters contributes to a light and airy structure.
  • It’s due to the sugar’s ability to aerate the batter when creamed with butter, which is essential for a fluffy cake.
  • Cookies: For cookies, granulated sugar gives a crisp edge while maintaining a chewy center.
  • This is because granulated sugar melts during baking, spreading the cookie and creating a desirable texture.

Powdered Sugar:

  • Cakes: Incorporating powdered sugar can result in a denser cake.
  • This happens because powdered sugar contains cornstarch, which can stiffen the batter.
  • Cookies: If you use powdered sugar in cookies, expect a soft and tender texture, often with less spread, due to the fineness of the sugar and its lower tendency to melt and caramelize like granulated sugar.

Influence on Sweetness and Flavor

Granulated Sugar:

  • Batters: It dissolves completely in batters, providing consistent sweetness without altering the flavor profile.
  • Sweetness: Offers a clean, sweet flavor that’s predictable and easy to control in recipes, ensuring that the intended flavor of other ingredients stands out.

Powdered Sugar:

  • Batters: Can alter the sweetness slightly due to the presence of cornstarch, which doesn’t contribute to sweetness.
  • Flavor: While primarily used for icings and frostings due to its finely ground texture and quick dissolving ability, powdered sugar can impart a subtly less sweet flavor to baked goods when used in place of granulated sugar.

Applications in Cooking and Desserts

In the realm of cooking and desserts, white sugars such as granulated and powdered play distinct roles based on their texture and properties. You’ll find that choosing the right type significantly affects your final product’s appearance, texture, and taste.

Making Frostings and Icings

When preparing frostings and icings, powdered sugar – often termed icing sugar – is your go-to choice.

Due to its fine, snow-like consistency, powdered sugar blends seamlessly into mixtures, creating a smooth and spreadable consistency ideal for icing cakes or piping decorations.

A classic buttercream icing, for example, relies on powdered sugar to achieve a light and creamy texture without any graininess.

  • Example:
    • Buttercream Frosting: Mix 1 cup of softened butter with 3-4 cups of powdered sugar, adding in 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or flavoring of choice.

Remember, the fine particles in powdered sugar are prone to moisture absorption, so keep it stored in an airtight container to maintain its quality.

Decorating and Dusting Techniques

For decorating and dusting desserts, powdered sugar excels due to its ability to provide a delicate, snowy finish.

It works both aesthetically and functionally as a topping for cakes, doughnuts, and pastries, enhancing both the dessert’s look and adding a sweet touch to the flavor.

  • Decorating Tip: Sift powdered sugar over a stencil on a cake for a precise and intricate design.

In contrast, granulated sugar is more suited for processes like caramelization, where its larger crystals can transform into a golden-brown, flavorful coating ideal for topping crème brûlée or sweetening a fruit compote.

It also dissolves easily, which is particularly useful in baking, ensuring your desserts have a consistent sweetness throughout.

Storage and Shelf Life

When storing granulated sugar, your goal is to maintain a dry environment. This type of sugar has a natural resilience against spoiling due to its low moisture content. To ensure its longevity:

  • Store in an airtight container to protect it from moisture and contaminants.
  • Keep the container in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.

Powdered sugar, however, has a finer texture making it more susceptible to clumping and absorbing moisture. For optimal preservation:

  • Use an airtight container here as well.
  • Place in a cool, dry location to minimize moisture exposure.

Shelf Life Comparison

  • Granulated Sugar: Effectively, it has an indefinite shelf life if stored properly. However, its quality is best within two years of opening.
  • Powdered Sugar: Has a shorter shelf life due to its particle size and propensity to absorb moisture. It should be used within two years of opening for best quality.
Sugar TypeBest Used WithinStorage Recommendation
GranulatedIndefinitelyAirtight container, cool, dry place
Powdered2 yearsAirtight container, cool, dry place

Remember, while both sugar types are durable, always inspect your supply before use. Discard any sugar that exhibits off odors, discoloration, or contamination.

Nutritional Information and Considerations

A measuring spoon pours granulated and powdered sugar into separate bowls, with a recipe book open nearby

Granulated sugar and powdered sugar have similar nutritional profiles, primarily differing in texture and particle size. Understanding their nutritional implications is essential for making informed decisions about your diet and health.


SweetenerCalories per teaspoon
Granulated Sugar~15
Powdered Sugar~15

Both granulated and powdered white sugars are highly refined and predominantly consist of carbohydrates in the form of sucrose. They are calorie-dense and contain about 15-20 calories per teaspoon. Consuming them in moderation is key as excessive intake can lead to weight gain.

Health Considerations:

Your consumption of these sweeteners should be balanced with your overall dietary needs. They lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber, providing empty calories without additional nutritional benefits. Prolonged high sugar intake is associated with various health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.

  • Usage Tip:

Store powdered sugar in an airtight container to prevent moisture absorption and clumping, which can affect both its shelf life and measurement consistency.

Substitutes and Alternatives

In your cooking and baking endeavors, you may find yourself needing to substitute granulated white sugar with an alternative sweetener. The suitability of substitutes may vary based on the desired texture and flavor profile of your dish.

Comparing with Brown Sugars

  • Brown Sugar (Light & Dark): You can use brown sugar in place of granulated sugar to enrich your baked goods with a mild to rich molasses flavor. Use a 1:1 ratio for substitution, but be mindful of the extra moisture that brown sugar adds.
    • Light Brown Sugar: Offers a subtle molasses taste.
    • Dark Brown Sugar: Delivers a more intense molasses flavor.
  • Muscovado Sugar:
  • This unrefined sugar with a strong molasses content and a sticky texture is an excellent replacement for granulated sugar in robust-flavored recipes.
  • Demerara Sugar:
  • With its crunchy texture and amber hue, Demerara works well as a topping for muffins and cakes, though it can be used in place of granulated sugar in a pinch.

Liquid Sweeteners as Substitutes

  • Honey:
  • When substituting honey for granulated sugar, use 3/4 cup of honey for every 1 cup of sugar and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons. Expect your baked goods to brown quicker and be moister.
  • Maple Syrup:
  • To replace granulated sugar with maple syrup, use 3/4 cup of syrup for 1 cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons. This will imbue your dish with a distinct maple flavor.

In substitution, it’s crucial to account for differences in volume, moisture content, and sweetness intensity. Adjust your recipes accordingly for the best results.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find clear and concise answers to common queries about the use of granulated vs. powdered white sugar in baking and cooking.

What is the difference between granulated and powdered sugar in baking recipes?

Granulated sugar, which is the standard white sugar, has larger crystals and is less prone to clumping. Powdered sugar, on the other hand, has much finer particles and typically contains cornstarch to prevent caking.

How can I substitute powdered sugar for granulated sugar in cooking?

When you need to use powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar, it’s essential to adjust for sweetness and texture. Powdered sugar is finer and may alter the texture of your dish.

What ratio should I use to convert granulated sugar to powdered sugar?

A general rule is to use 2/3 cup of granulated sugar to replace 1 cup of powdered sugar. It’s advisable to powder the granulated sugar using a blender to achieve a texture similar to that of powdered sugar.

In what types of recipes is it best to use powdered rather than granulated sugar?

Powdered sugar is ideal for recipes where a smooth, fine texture is desired, such as icings, frostings, and some baked goods like shortbread cookies.

Why might a baker choose powdered sugar over granulated sugar in cookie recipes?

Bakers may opt for powdered sugar in cookies for a tender and delicate crumb, as the finer sugar dissolves more readily into the dough.

How does the texture of cookies change when using powdered sugar compared to granulated sugar?

Using powdered sugar in cookies often results in a lighter, more crumbly texture due to its finer granules and the added cornstarch. This affects moisture absorption.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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