Powdered sugar is a super fine free-flowing white sugar.

Powdered Sugar

Also known as confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar

What is Powdered Sugar?

Powdered sugar is a super fine free-flowing white sugar. It is used in sweet goods as well as in delicate desserts such as mousse, meringue and sweet cream fillings. This sugar has an amorphous structure and is available as a blend of very fine sugar with anticaking agents to prevent lumping.1

Classification of powdered sugars is done by particle size with the higher the number preceding the ‘X’, the finer the particles:1

  • 6X powdered sugar
  • 10X powdered sugar
  • 12X powdered sugar


Cane or beet sugar can be used in making powdered sugar which often contains an anti-caking agent such as corn starch to prevent particles conglomerating or clumping.


Powdered sugar can be used for several purposes in baked goods:1

  • Sweetener: provides a sweet flavor
  • Tenderizer: interferes with gluten formation, protein coagulation and starch gelatinization
  • Shelf life improvement: reduces the amount of water available for microbial deterioration
  • Color: provides subtract for browning reactions
  • Bulking agent: mainly in confections and fondants
  • Structure: starch present in powdered sugar can help stiffen and stabilize meringues and whipped cream


The nutritional value can be seen in the following table:1

Parameter 6X 10X 12X
Sucrose (%) 96.0 – 97.0 96.0 – 97.0 95.0 – 96.0
Starch (%) 3.0 – 4.0 3.0 – 4.0 4.0 – 5.0
Ash (%) 0.02 0.02 0.02
Moisture (%) 0.2 -0.4 0.2 -0.4 0.2 -0.6

Powdered sugar is sucrose and thus produces the same negative effects as regular granulated sugar mainly increased risk of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, inflammatory responses. Its glycemic index is 65 compared to glucose at 100.

The daily intake of sugar has been regulated by the American Heart Association as no more than 150 kcal/day and 100 kcal/day for men and women, respectively.3

Commercial production

This sugar is produced through the following  process:1

  • Cleaning: impurities or metal pieces are removed from granulated sugar using magnets
  • Milling: particle size reduction due to high mechanical stress  is accompanied by temperature increase to about 50 °C (122°F)
  • Mixing: pulverized sugar is mixed with the appropriate amount of starch or other anticaking agent (3-5%)
  • Packing: sugar is packed in 2 lb, 25 lb, 50 lb or 100 lb paper bags


Confectioners sugar is used in cakes, cookies and muffins as an alternative to regular granulated sugar. However, its main use has been in coatings, both mixed with water or fats. It is used to dust  desserts, cookies and other sweet goods.1,2 The general rule of substitution is that for every 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1 ¾ cup of powdered sugar is needed.

In comparison to granulated sugar, powdered sugar dissolves readily, and is therefore very useful in food applications that don’t require cooking. Also, powdered sugar contains roughly 3% corn starch, yielding an increased thickness, or viscosity, into products as compared to the effects of granulated sugar.

FDA regulations

Confectioners sugar (sucrose) is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, when used for its intended purpose and following the good manufacturing practices.4


  1. Asadi, M. Beet-sugar handbook. John Wiley & Sons,1 st ed., 2006.
  2. Figoni, P. How Baking Works: Exploring The Fundamentals Of Baking Science. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.
  3. Rippe, J. M. Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sucrose And Health. 1st ed., Springer New York, 2014, pp. 25-27.
  4. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). US Department of Health and Human Services. CFR Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 184 Direct Food Substances Affirmed As Generally Recognized As Safe, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=184.1854, Accessed 14 July 2020.