While there are reports of European confectioners using powdered sugar as far back as the 18th century, it was not until the Victorian era that granulated sugar was widely available to the general consumer. Before that period, sugar was transported in large loaves or cones. The sugar in these loaves would vary wildly in their degree of refinement. To make that sugar usable, the consumer had to break lumps of sugar from the loaves or cones. If they wanted grains of sugar, they would have to grind the lumps.
The task of breaking sugar from the loaves or cones could be done with a mallet and knife, or with specialized tools called sugar cutters that resembled scissors.
To make powdered sugar, cooks had to grind or grate the lumps to a fine consistency using a mortar and pestle or with a spice mill. They would then sift the ground sugar to separate out the larger chunks so only the finest grains remain.
The sugar could then be placed into a sugar box or into a utensil called a sugar caster. Sugar casters are similar to large salt shakers and were used for casting or sprinkling sugar onto baked goods. Powdered sugar is still referred to as caster sugar by many in the UK. Technological advances would make pre-powdered sugar available to general consumers by the 19th century.
Today, powdered sugar is sold in several different grain sizes. The grain sizes include 4x, 6x, and 10x. The 10x grain size is the finest powdered sugar, which is also known as confectioners’ sugar.
Powdered sugar flavor profile
Powdered sugar may or may not contain corn starch as an anti-caking agent. Aside from that, it consists entirely of white refined sugar, which means that sweetness is its only flavor.
Powdered sugar can taste sweeter than granulated sugar simply because of the grain size. Smaller grains mean more surface area. Increased surface area means that it will dissolve faster and you may taste more of it immediately when compared to larger grains.
Health benefits of powdered sugar
Aside from a small amount of starch, powdered sugar is exactly the same as white refined granulated sugar. The only difference is the fineness of the grind. As refined sugar, its nutritional value is limited. That said, it does have a few pros. Its positives include:
It gives you energy: Sugar is a simple carbohydrate and like other simple carbohydrates, it is an excellent source of energy. It has a very high-calorie content, which means that it gives you the fuel you need for physical activity.
It is fat-free: Consuming powdered sugar in excess can lead to your body storing the extra energy as fat; however, sugar itself does not contain fat and therefore will provide no calories from fat.
It has no cholesterol: Because it is not an animal product, sugar does not contain cholesterol. However, there is at least one study showing it to lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL); HDL is also known as good cholesterol.
Sugar has no benefits when it comes to treating or preventing any diseases or health conditions, but it should not be harmful if consumed in moderation.
Common uses of powdered sugar
Frostings and icings showed up around the same time that powdered sugar became widely available and it is still used mostly for making them and for decorating baked goods. Larger grain sizes like caster sugar (called superfine sugar in the US) are used by bartenders to make mixed drinks because powdered sugar dissolves faster in cold liquids than granulated sugar.
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