What Is Sanding Sugar?

A Guide to Buying, Using, and Storing Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Sanding sugar is a type of coarse-grained sugar made of extremely pure sucrose crystals that is used for decorating cookies, muffins and other baked goods and confections. It's often, but not always, colored in bright colors. 

Fast Facts

  • Coarse-grained sugar crystals
  • Available in various colors as well as white
  • Used for decorating
  • Usually not vegan

What Is Sanding Sugar?

Sanding sugar is a type of decorative sugar made from coarse-grained sugar crystals that have been refined to a high state of purity. Raw sugar, which is a brown crystalline product, is melted into a liquid, which then goes through a process of clarifying and decoloring. This clarified liquid is then boiled once more to concentrate it. The resulting syrup is then recrystallized and dried in large tumble dryers. At this point the crystals are around 99.96 percent pure sucrose. 

Next, the crystals are poured through a series of screens to separate them by size. The crystals used for making sanding sugar need to measure 0.6 to 0.7 millimeters (around the size of grains of sand, hence its name), as compared with 0.3 to 0.4 millimeters for ordinary granulated sugar. Finally, the sugar crystals have food-grade coloring added to them, and a polish made of carnauba wax and a substance called confectioners' glaze is applied. This polish is what gives sanding sugar its distinctive shine.

Carnauba wax is obtained from the leaves of a tropical palm. Confectioners' glaze, however, is made from a resin secreted by a species of tree beetle. Therefore, fun (or maybe not so fun) fact: sanding sugar most often isn't vegan. Be sure to check the ingredient label is this is an issue for you. If it lists confectioners' glaze, it is not vegan. 

What sanding sugar brings to your baking is a coarse crystal that provides sweetness and crunch, will not dissolve when sprinkled over royal icing, will not melt when baked, and imparts a colorful sparkle to cookies, muffins, cupcakes, candies and other treats.

Sanding Sugar Vs. Sparkling Sugar

There is a similar product called sparkling sugar which is sometimes confused with sanding sugar. Sparkling sugar is another coarse-grained sugar that shares many of the same properties as sanding sugar: its crunch, its resistance to melting and dissolving, and its sparkle and shine. The crystals of sparkling sugar are usually slightly larger than sanding sugar, like 0.65 to 0.75 millimeters, and are likewise available in various colors, as well as white. While both products are sparkly, sparkling sugar sparkles a bit more due to its larger size. 

How to Cook With Sanding Sugar

Unlike granulated sugar, which is used as the primary sweetener in sweet dishes, sanding sugar is a decorative sugar that is sprinkled over cookies or muffins before baking them, or onto the icing of cookies or the frosting of cupcakes. What it adds, in addition to its colorful, sparkly appearance, is a crunchy texture along with a hit of pure sucrose sweetness. There are endless ways of decorating with sanding sugar, including dredging the edges of cookies in the sanding sugar, or using small cookie cutters to help apply the sanding sugar in shapes to the tops of cookies. 

Sanding sugar

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Sanding sugar

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Sanding sugar

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What Does It Taste Like?

Since it consists of 99.96 percent pure sucrose, sanding sugar has a sweet flavor. And because it's a decorative sugar, the crystals don't dissolve on the surface of whatever sweet treat it's sprinkled on, which imparts a pleasant sugary crunch as well.

Sanding Sugar Substitute

If you can't find sanding sugar, sparkling sugar, pearl sugar or any other decorative sugar will work just as well. Other decorative sprinkles, such as nonpareils, sequins, jimmies and edible glitter are also good alternatives. Raw sugar, which has larger crystals, will also work, though it has a brown color. And you can make your own colored sugar by adding a drop of gel food coloring to coarse-grained sugar and shaking it up in a plastic bag.

Sanding Sugar Recipes

Here are a few recipes you could prepare and decorate using sanding sugar.

Where To Buy Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar is widely available in supermarkets, in their baking aisles, as well as in baking supply stores, specialty food stores, and online. 


Sugar doesn't spoil, so its shelf life is effectively infinite. Over time, however, sugar can become clumpy due to moisture, which can interfere with how easily it sprinkles. Therefore it's best to keep it tightly sealed and store it in a cool, dry place.