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I'm looking for a way to tint powdered sugar without wetting it.

I know that there are powdered food colors but I think that part of what activates the color is the fact that they get wet when you add them to an icing or batter.

I'm also afraid that they're so concentrated that, even if I get the color I want, I'll end up dyeing the mouths of the people who eat the cookies/cupcakes/whatever that I dust with the powdered sugar.

Is blending/processing colored sanding sugar and adding a bit of cornstarch an option? Will it ever mimic actual powdered sugar?

Edit: I've tried the above (sanding sugar with cornstarch) and it does not make a good solution.

  • To grind granulated ("sanding") sugar down to the fineness of powdered sugar, you really need a coffee/spice grinder. Most food processors, even mini ones, will just whirl the sugar around without having any effect on the grind size. – Marti Mar 11 '15 at 23:01
  • Would you be willing to invest $20 in a rotary coffee grinder (I got mine at a thrift store for $5)? If so, I'll experiment with making colored powdered sugar. – Jolenealaska Mar 16 '15 at 0:35
  • @Jolenealaska Sorry, been super busy and going a bit nuts. I have a coffee grinder, actually... just don't think about using it because of it being really coffee flavored... I'd have to get a second one. I'm certainly willing to try it in the grinder to see if it works. I did actually find that the powdered coloring does work and isn't too horrid for dying people's mouths... but I'm testing it out with red, so it may just be blending in. – Catija Mar 16 '15 at 20:16
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From my experience coloring regular sugar with ordinary food coloring, drying it, and then crushing it in a mortar yields good results. Be careful to not use too much food coloring though, or it will never dry properly! I haven't tried to see if cornstarch might save it, but as long as you do the drying properly and don't overdo the amount of color it shouldn't be necessary.

As for the powdered food coloring option you suggested, I found a source that said they don't have to be wet to take effect, but it doesn't say anything about whether the eaters will be colored =)

  • I'll have to suspect that the mortar and pestle will do a much better job of really crushing the sugar fine, as opposed to a food-processor/spice-grinder/coffee-grinder) - then you could run it though a really fine sifter/screen and regrind whatever didn't go through. – Ecnerwal Mar 16 '15 at 16:33
  • I think there is more to be said on the subject, but only 2 answers are eligible for the bounty, so I awarded it. I'd still like to see a more complete answer. – Jolenealaska Mar 17 '15 at 14:08
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I think i can help you here if anyone is interested. It's an easy process that costs almost nothing. No grinders are required.

The issue with using liquid colours is they cause the icing sugar to clump, hence the need to dry the sugar and then grind it. Using powdered colours still require a liquid to be added so you're back at step one.

Grinding whilst colouring is the answer. Here is the trick:

Take some rice and add the food colour to it. You'll need a slightly more brightly coloured rice than you want the sugar but make sure the rice is not wet. With a gloved hand, completely mix the colour into the rice. Add the icing sugar and thoroughly mix. The rice will break the sugar down as it clumps whilst at the same time giving you the colour.

Now you just sift the rice from the icing suagr and Viola!

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Colored sanding sugars can be run through a spice grinder to gain this effect. Note, you will lose much of your intensity of color.

PS - Make sure your spice grinder/coffee grinder is VERY clean.

  • I appreciate the answer. I did this using my mini Cuisinart and just got colorful regular sugar. It didn't have the fluffiness of powdered sugar. – Catija Mar 11 '15 at 20:49
  • I see. I was thinking fine, you were thinking fluffy. For fluffy, I would try cornstarch. For an interesting taste/tang, powdered citric acid is the primary 'sour' flavoring, and if memory serves me right, it is EXTREMELY light and fluffy. Good luck and let us know how it works out. – BrownRedHawk Mar 11 '15 at 20:51
  • I've tried cornstarch in addition to the sanding sugar as well... it doesn't make it fluffy, unfortunately. I suppose it's possible that I am not processing it enough. – Catija Mar 11 '15 at 21:33
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    Commercial powdered sugar is made using mechanical means. I also believe that tricalcium phosphate is what is used in place of starch in commercial production. Have you tried using a generous amount of sugar to ensure the blender is churning properly? Maybe put on a show while the blender runs in case it takes absurdly long? The last random idea that comes to mind is that the moisture level of the sugar is too high and that it needs to be dried out in a cool-to-warm oven. You could also try with plain sugar, then with sanding to see if the texture is inherent to the dye addition. – Derpy Mar 12 '15 at 0:15
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You could try using decorating dust such as cake decorators use to apply color to flowers and other decorations on cakes. I know it is most common in metallic colors but it does come in other colors as well. Just be sure to look for dust that is labeled as "food safe," as some are not intended for eating.

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Taken from Edible Glitter

To make colored sugar:

1/4 cup granulated sugar (not brown, not confectioners, castor sugar or superfine sugar is ok) 1/2 teaspoon of liquid food coloring

1: Mix the sugar and food coloering

2: spread out on parchment paper (I added this step)

3: bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.

4: store in air tight container

you can also do the same with Salt if you want to make colored salt. If you use castor sugar or superfine sugar, it won't have that same white background that confectioners provides as a backdrop for the coloring, but you could put confectioners down on your treat first, then put the colored sug

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    The question is about powdered or confectioners sugar, not granulated :) – Erica Mar 16 '15 at 23:04

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