What Is Luster Dust?

Buying, Baking, and Recipes

Jars of luster dust

The Spruce / Elizabeth LaBau

Luster dust is a type of decorating powder used in cake and candy decorating to add color and sparkle to desserts. Manufacturers throughout the world produce various types of luster dust—not all of which is edible—and its use is just as widespread. North Americans and Europeans seem to use it most. Luster dust comes in a wide variety of colors, but the most commonly used shades are gold and silver.

Fast Facts

  • Use: Cake and candy decoration; not always edible
  • Varieties: Luster dust, highlighter dust, petal dust, pearl dust, sparkle dust, disco dust
  • Substitute: Sanding sugar, edible gold leaf, edible spray

What Is Luster Dust?

Luster dust is a common term used to describe a family of tasteless decorative powders used by bakers and confectioners. The ingredients vary by brand and color, so there is no uniformity to the contents of luster dust. Commonly cited ingredients are titanium dioxide, iron oxide, carmine, and mica. Additionally, some contain iron blue or chromium oxide.

There are many different brands of luster dust and most of them are not individually labeled with ingredients. Different shades of luster dust within the same brand might contain different ingredients necessary to produce those shades. If your luster dust container is not labeled, the only way to be certain of the ingredients is to contact the company and inquire about that specific shade.

Varieties

All varieties of luster dust are used for cake and candy decorating, though they have different properties and produce different effects.

  • Luster dust comes in many different colors and adds sparkle, shine, and a fair amount of color.
  • Highlighter dust usually comes in gold and silver colors and gives a high-sheen, metallic finish. Most highlighter dust is not edible and is for decorative purposes only.
  • Petal dust has a matte finish and produces deep, strong colors. Petal dust is often used to decorate gum paste flowers because the matte appearance gives them a natural look.
  • Pearl dust imparts a sparkly, pearlescent finish with just a touch of color. It is translucent and can be mixed with petal dust to give decorations shimmer and sparkle without adding much color.
  • Sparkle dust produces effects similar to luster dust, imparting color and shine, but the sparkle dust grains are larger than the fine powder of the luster dust.
  • Disco dust has the largest grains of all and can be compared in size to pieces of glitter. Disco dust is not subtle, so it works best on pieces that should "pop" and sparkle with a glittery finish.

Luster Dust Uses

Luster dust is used as decoration on top of cakes, cupcakes, and other sweet treats. Not all luster dust is edible. It depends very much on the specific brand and specific color. Most luster dust is labeled "non-toxic," meaning that it won't harm you if consumed. Keep in mind, though, that just because something is not toxic does not mean it is intended to be eaten. To be safe, use luster dust brands that are specifically labeled "FDA Approved" or "Food Grade."

In some cases, certain shades are not mean to be consumed at all. These are clearly labeled "Not for Consumption" or "For Decorative Use Only." In these instances, only use that luster dust on decorative elements that will not be eaten, like gum paste flowers on a cake.

How to Cook With Luster Dust

Luster dust can simply be brushed onto molded candies, fondant, and gum paste with a dry brush. If you want an evener application or intense color, mix the luster dust with alcohol (vodka is recommended) or an alcohol-based extract like lemon extract. It only takes a small amount of liquid, so start with a few drops and mix until you get a consistency you like. Do not mix the luster dust with water, as the majority are not water-soluble and will result in a sticky mess.

For stronger effects, you can paint on multiple coats of luster dust, just be sure to let each layer dry in between applications. Luster dust can also be mixed with alcohol and used with a food-grade airbrushing machine. You can also quickly apply luster dust to candies by placing a small amount with the candy in a container, closing the lid, then shaking it until the candy is covered.

Luster Dust Substitute

There are many ways to decorate foods without luster dust. Which you choose will depend on the application. Sanding sugar is a large-grain sugar that's edible and comes in a variety of colors. It is not thin like luster dust, but it does have some sparkle when the light catches it. You can sprinkle the sugar on top of wet icing or apply a thin gel as a base so the sugar sticks.

For a shiny metallic look that's flat against the surface without added sweetness, edible gold leaf is a good choice. Silver leaf is available as well, just make sure it's edible. Edible sprays are another option that only adds color. These come in a variety of colors as well as metallics. You will have to mask off parts that you don't want to be painted.

Luster Dust Recipes

Luster dust adds a beautiful layer of color and sparkle to sweets and is used in a number of candy and cake recipes.

Where to Buy Luster Dust

Luster dust is readily available at many online stores and is often carried in cake decorating stores and candy supply stores. Additionally, craft stores that carry the Wilton line of cake decorating products often have Wilton-brand pearl dust and sparkle dust. Always make sure it is edible unless you're going to use it for decorative elements only. Luster dust is more expensive than other baking decorations. It's often sold in small jars of just a few grams, but a little goes a long way.

When buying luster dust, particularly online, be sure to do so from a trusted source. Some disreputable retailers have repackaged similar dust that was intended for industrial uses or as craft glitter and sold it for food decorations.

Storage

Store jars of luster dust in a cool, dark place. A cupboard away from warm appliances works well, as does an enclosed pantry that will protect it from sunlight. When stored properly, it doesn't have a shelf life.