From the 16th century to the 18th century, consumers got their sugar in varying degrees refinement. As a result, recipes from this period often included directions for clarifying and sifting sugar. Sugar was sold in the form of loaves or cones and pieces were cut from them with the use of a tool called a sugar cutter. The earliest form of powdered sugar was sugar that had been grated from the loaves or cones. The grated sugar could then be sifted. This sifted sugar was the first form of powdered sugar. With sifting, the finer sugar granules would be separated from the larger ones.
Powdered sugar similar to what is available today was in use in the confection industry at the end of the 18th century. With the advent of technology for processing sugar, the market for it would spread to home cooks in the 19th century. This was also the point at which icing was first used on cakes. Its invention and use were most likely due to the ready availability of confectioners’ sugar.
Today, the most finely ground granulated white sugar is called powdered sugar and the most finely ground powdered sugar is called confectioners’ sugar.
Flavor profile of confectioners’ sugar
Because it consists mostly of sugar, the flavor of confectioners’ sugar is primarily sweet with no other flavors. While the corn starch in it is supposed to be a neutral-tasting anti-caking agent, some people find that it gives a metallic taste to frosting. This can be fixed by melting the butter and heating it with the other frosting ingredients in a stainless-steel bowl set in a bath of hot water. After about five minutes, remove the bowl and place it in an ice bath before beating the frosting until it is fluffy.
Health benefits of confectioners’ sugar
Confectioners’ sugar consists of refined granulated sugar that has been ground to a fine consistency and mixed with a small amount of corn starch. Like refined sugar, corn starch is not known for being highly nutritious and there is only 3 to 4 percent of it in confectioners’ sugar. The trace nutrients it provides are diluted to the point of being insignificant.
That said, confectioners’ sugar does have a few characteristics that could be seen as beneficial for health; these include:
- It is a carbohydrate: The only real nutritional value of confectioners’ sugar is the result of its role as a carbohydrate. Both the sugar and the corn starch are simple carbohydrates, which are quick sources of energy for your body. In fact, they are your body’s preferred energy source in that it will burn them first. Of course, they will also be stored as fat if they are consumed in excess. A 1-tablespoon serving of powdered sugar makes up 2 percent of your daily recommended carbohydrate consumption.
- It contains no cholesterol: Since confectioners’ sugar does not contain animal products, it is not a source of cholesterol. That said, research has shown that sugar consumption raises some of the markers for heart disease.
Powdered sugar is not known to be beneficial for the treatment or prevention of any diseases or health conditions.
Common uses of confectioners’ sugar
The primary use is for making frosting and icing. Other uses include making meringues, where the corn starch helps to keep the meringue from sagging. Its use is not limited to desserts. In Morocco, it is sprinkled on chicken pies called b’stillas.