Despite the differences in labeling and packaging, confectioners sugar and powdered sugar are the same sugar variants used for baking and cooking purposes. There is literally no difference between the two as they undergo the same process.
Confectioners sugar, also known as powdered sugar, icing sugar, 4x sugar, and 10x sugar, is produced by pulverizing granulated sugar. As the name implies, confectioners sugar is primarily used for baking purposes. To improve consistency and prevent clumping, it is usually mixed with an anti-caking agent which contributes to its fine, powdered texture.
During production, manufacturers mill granulated sugar at a specific degree. Powdered sugar variants used for industrial purposes are pulverized 4x or 6x, while commercial ones are processed 10x. Although some bakers and cooks use the term “confectioners sugar” instead of “powdered sugar” for variants pounded 10x, manufacturers use these terms interchangeably. As a rule of thumb, the higher the degree of milling, the finer the sugar is and the quicker it is to dissolve. 4x sugar and 10x sugar are milled 4x and 10x, respectively.
Once the milling process is completed, powdered sugar becomes vulnerable to caking since fine particles can quickly absorb moisture. To prevent clumping and improve the overall texture and fineness of the product, around 3% to 5% cornstarch is added to the sugar. The cornstarch acts as an anti-caking agent by minimizing friction between sugar crystals and absorbing moisture.
Even though confectioners sugar is usually manufactured by companies, home cooks and bakers can create a homemade version by crushing and grinding granulated sugar with the use of a mortar and pestle or a blender. After grinding the sugar, around 3% cornstarch should be added to the product. In some recipes, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch is added and mixed with 1 cup of milled sugar.
Since it contains a minimal percentage of cornstarch, confectioners sugar is not always an ideal substitute for granulated sugar. When added to cold beverages, it can easily cause clumping due to its cornstarch content. In hot beverages, on the other hand, confectioners sugar can cause unwanted thickening. Also, it should not be used for making syrups for similar reasons.
Despite its limitations, confectioners sugar also has its strengths. Since it is quick-dissolving, it is perfect for baking and cooking dishes with thick sauces. Bakers usually use this type of sugar for making frosting, icing, and other cake decorations.
Lastly, confectioners sugar is also used for whipped cream since it is lighter than granulated sugar. It is also dusted on top of pastries, cookies, and other baked products.
Confectioners Sugar vs Powdered Sugar
So what’s the difference between confectioners sugar and powdered sugar? Although they are labeled differently, there is no difference between the two. They are the same sugar variants used mainly for cooking and baking purposes.