Sanding sugar is a coarse, decorative sugar that adds sparkly bling to desserts, baked goods, and cocktail glasses. The large crystals hold their shape when heated, adding a delicious crunch to food.
This type of sugar can be a challenge to find in mainstream grocery stores. If you can’t get your hands on a bag, then you can still finish any recipe without it. We’ve created the ultimate list of sanding sugar substitutes, allowing you to finish any recipe without it.
What can I use instead of sanding sugar?
If you’ve got no sanding sugar, then we recommend making your own. Combine white sugar in a zip-lock bag with a few drops of food dye until you get a colorful sugar topping. Other quick and easy replacements are demerara, granulated, or pearl sugar which won’t add much color or sparkle but are great for flavor and crunch.
1. Homemade sanding sugar
Making your own sanding sugar is easy and doesn’t require any fancy ingredients. There are a variety of ways to make it, but this is the easy method.
Scoop a cup of granulated sugar into a sealable plastic bag and add a few drops of food coloring. You choose the color!
Seal the bag and knead the contents until the color is evenly distributed through the sugar. Add a few more drops of color if you want a more vibrant shade.
Making a homemade version with granulated sugar means the granules will be smaller. However, your baked goods will still taste delicious.
Want shiny sugar? Once you color the sugar, dump it onto a lined baking tray and heat at 350°F for 2-3 minutes. Try to dry the granules without melting or burning them. You'll need to watch closely.
2. Demerara sugar
If you don’t need a shiny, colorful sheen on your baked goods then demerara sugar will work fine. It is a brown, coarse variety of sugar that’ll add a crunchy texture to muffins, cookies, candy, and scones.
Demerara is usually easy to find in supermarkets, but if you can’t find it then do a quick search online. Another handy coarse-grained sugar is turbinado. It’s a type of brown sugar, perfect for adding texture but you won’t be able to color them.
3. Granulated sugar
If you’re not worried about the size of the crystals on your cakes and cookies, then just use regular granulated sugar. You’ll get a similar taste without the shimmer and crunch.
Other everyday varieties like superfine sugar (caster sugar) and powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar) will usually be too fine.
Brown sugar and muscovado will add a deeper, caramelized flavor to your baking.
4. Pearl sugar
If you can get your hands on pearl sugar, then it’ll make a good sanding sugar substitute. This type of sugar is a decorative element, commonly used in Belgium and other parts of Europe for sweet treats like waffles.
Pearl sugar has opaque crystals, so you won’t get the sparkling, clear look that you’d expect from sanding sugar.
Find this product through online retailers or try local cake-making specialty stores.
5. Rainbow sprinkles
If you want a bright, decorative topping then sprinkles make a good replacement for sanding sugar. They’re much easier to find in the supermarket, just head to the baking section.
Although sprinkles look okay on baked goods like cookies and some cakes, they have their limitations. Scones and muffins that benefit from the crunch and shine of sanding sugar will look awkward covered in sprinkles.
Most sprinkles also aren’t as sweet, thanks to the addition of various filler ingredients. Those on a gluten-free diet should check the label before using in cooking. Some brands use ingredients that contain gluten.
Similar option: Baking M&Ms are another colorful choice best for cakes and cookies.
6. Almond slivers
Most sweet baked foods already contain a lot of sugar. If you don’t want to add more to your cooking, then use almond slivers. They are the healthiest option on this list, offering fiber, protein, vitamin E, and manganese.
Almond slivers add a tasty crunch to food, like sanding sugar. Once baked their flavor will develop deliciously and they’ll give off a welcoming aroma.
7. Coffee sugar crystals
Coffee sugar crystals are ideal for hot beverages, offering a full-bodied, caramelized honey taste. Their crystals are larger than sanding sugar, but they are excellent for making crunchy-topped cakes and muffins. They are amber in color so using food dye on them isn’t an option.
The biggest challenge with coffee sugar crystals is finding them. If you can’t find a pack in your local store, do a quick online search.
8. Honey crystals
Although we couldn’t get our hands on honey crystals for this article, they’d make a useful sanding sugar substitute. You’ll get a delicious honey flavor, and they can be sprinkled onto desserts and baked goods as a crunchy garnish.
Commonly asked questions
Can I use rock sugar to replace sanding sugar?
Rock sugar, or Chinese sugar, has large chunks suitable for melting into tea and food recipes. They are too large for use as a garnish.
What can I use sanding candy for?
Sanding candy is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen, ideal for decorating candy, holiday cookies, gingerbread houses, scones, muffins, cakes, and desserts. They also add some glitz to a cocktail glass and are excellent for sprinkling onto chocolate and icing before it’s fully set.
How long does homemade sanding candy last?
Sanding candy can be stored in an airtight container for at least two years, in a cool, dry place. You can make a large batch in one go and then slowly use it when a dessert, cookie, or drink calls for a little extra shine.
How do I get sanding sugar to stick to baked goods?
If you’re trying to add the sugar after baking, then allow the food to cool completely first. Mix an egg white with a little water and brush it onto the food before sprinkling the sugar on top.
Did you know? Sanding sugar is also known as sugar sand or coarse sugar.
Sanding sugar is a good way to add eye-catching, coarse granules of sugar to your food. Anyone having trouble finding it can substitute it with demerara, pearl, or granulated sugar. If you use a large-granule white sugar, coloring it with a food dye of your choice is an option.
Everyday baking ingredients like sprinkles or almond slivers also make a useful alternative to sanding sugar. You’ll get a different result, but still eye-catching and tasty. Keep in mind they won’t be suitable for all recipes that call for sanding sugar.