What Is Pearl Sugar? And How Can You Substitute It?

If you are someone who bakes a lot you may entertain much more ‘expert’ or ‘professional’ baking recipes.

Many of these recipes can include ingredients that are near superfluous, perhaps just for decoration or minute flavor balances.

This is all part of becoming an expert baker, but if you are baking at home without a wealth of ingredients at your hands in a test kitchen these ingredients can sometimes be a little hard to get your hands on. 

Pearl sugar is certainly one of these ingredients, mainly used for decoration, but often hard to find in your average grocery store’s baking aisle.

What Is Pearl Sugar? And How Can You Substitute It?

Maybe it just feels pointless wasting your hear earned cash on an expensive ingredient that is basically just sugar. In any case, we are here to keep your baking journey going.

Below we have suggested some of the easiest and best substitutes for pearl sugar in baking recipes.

When you know what pearl sugar is, what it’s used for, and what it brings to a recipe, it can be easy to figure out how to substitute them. Find all this out and more in our article below, so you can get back to baking right away!

What Is Pearl Sugar?

Pearl sugar, sometimes called sugar nibs, is a specialty sugar used mainly in baking which is quite popular in Europe. In essence, your common sugar crystals are compacted into pearls or nibs of sugar. Yeah, that’s pretty much all it is.

You can actually make this at home with some simple forms of sugar, which we will get into later, but some specific recipes will ask for sugar pearls or nibs.

Waffle recipes, specifically liege waffles from Belgium, will often ask for the use of pearl sugar. 

This makes a lot of sense as the much larger bits of sugar will dreamily caramelize under the contact heat of a waffle iron creating some really tasty crunchy sugary bits on what is a fairly light waffle.

As a result they are pretty common in both Sweden and Belgium for waffle making.

On the other hand, pearl sugar can simply be used to decorate the top of pastries or sweet buns, even cakes, as they have a sophisticated look to them perfect for Christmas decorations, the same way you might add flaky salt or a savory paste for decoration and texture.

Generally, pearl sugar isn’t widely sold in US grocery stores, but is a specialty ingredient reserved for commercial and professional bakers.

As a result a home baker trying to follow a more intermediate recipe may find that this ingredient will be missing. You can purchase pearl sugar online, but there are also lots of easy subs we will discuss below.

What To Substitute Pearl Sugar With?

Below are some ways you can replace pearl sugar in basically any way.

Sugar Cubes

Yeah, it can be this simple. Of course we don’t want to be throwing a cube of sugar onto the tops of our cupcakes, but you can use sugar cubes to make your own pearl sugar.

Everyone probably has sugar cubes in their tea cupboard, or will easily be able to get them in their grocery store super easy.

Sugar cubes are basically square sugar pearls, they are both compacted forms of sugar.

This said, if you put a bunch of sugar cubes in a bag and smash them up a little bit, although not too much, the corners of the sugar cubes will naturally smash the cubes into smaller crystal chunks.

In both situations, both decorating and making liege waffles, sugar cubes can easily substitute pearl sugar when smashed up like this.

They might not be so perfectly spherical as the latter will, but will work exactly the same, plus the aesthetics won’t matter in a waffle maker, but it might matter when decorating.

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar can be pretty coarse sometimes and in terms of decorating and adding texture to a baked good, it can do the same as pearl sugar.

Consider in any case that pearl sugar can be a bit much.

No one really wants to bite into a sphere of sugar on their already sugary cupcake or pastry, they much more for superfluous design, the kind of thing that people remove before eating, albeit being completely edible.

In other words, adding granulated sugar to your cakes for both decoration and texture can really bring the same vibe, as well as pleasant and reasonable crunch to the top of the cake that isn’t too OTT!

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is as close to raw sugar cane as you can get, pretty much, with something like granulated sugar being much further down the lane of processing.

In any case turbinado sugar is from the first pressing of sugar cane. The syrup is boiled and then crystallized to give us turbinado sugar.

In other words, being less processed, turbinado sugar often comes in more large crystals.

While turbinado sugar does have a slightly browned tinge, which some may find undesirable, this can bring some welcome color to the decoration of a cake.

It gives a pleasant crunch and isn’t so crunchy as sugar pearls, which can be a plus. It’s like maldon salt crystals on a pretzel, they stand out this way and look great.

Moreover, being a less processed form of sugar they have a different kind of flavor to the generic sugar that might be in the cake.

Icing Sugar

Icing Sugar has been used to decorate cakes for ages, and can work in a few different forms for decoration.

Icing sugar is basically the most fine version of sugar you can get to the point where it is basically a pulverized powder smaller in granule than salt.

As a result you won’t get the texture that pearl sugar can, but you get more decorative options.

One way people use icing sugar for decoration is by dusting it over the tops of their cakes and other baked goods.

This is really easy to do provided you have a sieve, and with icing sugar being a really common ingredient you can find everywhere.

Simply sieve some icing sugar over your cakes or baked goods for a dusting that is as light as snow and can be really beautiful.

Not only is this aesthetics as heck but provides way more decoration directions beyond this, as well as just being really pleasant to eat.

In addition to this, people add water to icing sugar in order to make an opaque sugar paste that is ideal for decoration. You can flavor and color this as you want, and add whatever flavorings you want too.

You can make it thicker and pipe it into cakes for more intricate designs, or just have a beautiful glaze on top of a baked good with this sugar paste, for something simple but effective.

Final Thoughts

As you can see pearl sugar is a pretty niche ingredient usually reserved for shop windows, commercial baking, and baking competitions.

There’s no point using pearl sugar at home really, unless you are making liege waffles where it is a necessary ingredient, but then you’d need a waffle maker too.

For most it is a superfluous decoration that won’t be eaten in most cases, but can be necessary when making liege waffles specifically

There are plenty of types of sugar out there which are easier to find and are more likely to be eaten by people.

In terms of making waffles, you can easily just smash up sugar cubes for the same chunky sugar effect, for decoration too.

If you want a textured decoration to your cake, there are loads of sugars out there which you can find in a grocery store that can provide this, as well as other decorating avenues.

What Is Pearl Sugar? And How Can You Substitute It?

Recipe by AubreyCourse: Sides


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  • Decide on what substitute you need
  • Pick a substitute from the list above
  • Read what you need to substitute with
  • Create the recipe and enjoy

Recipe Video

https://youtu.be/ZVZKfIr2WvIVideo can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: How to Make Pearl Sugar at Home. (https://youtu.be/ZVZKfIr2WvI)
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