Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

The difference between Royal icing and Buttercream icing

With the evolving baking industry, cakes have become one of the most baked and liked dessert in everyday life.  With this, there has been increased competition in the cake making market where each baker tries to differentiate his/her product in the best way possible to get a good market share. Many bakers out there often wonder which type of icing they should use on their cakes to present the most beautiful as well as the most delicious cake. The debate becomes intense when it comes to choosing between Royal icing and Buttercream icing. This article aims to highlight some major differences between these two to make the choice easier and cakes yummier!

Royal icing

Royal icing is made from powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. One can add extracts and flavorings to it but typically it’s not needed. It tastes extremely sweet as it has large proportion of powdered sugar in it. In appearance, royal icing is thin and stiff when it is prepared but it dries to a hard solid consistency once used.

Buttercream icing

Buttercream icing is made from powdered sugar, milk or cream, butter or shortening, and an extract. It can be converted to chocolate icing using cocoa powder or real melted chocolate. It tastes creamy and buttery, and takes well to extracts and flavors. Exteriorly, buttercream icing is smooth, soft and consistent that works well for covering the cakes. The amount of liquid added to the icing determines its thickness but, generally it takes a long time to dry.  The formula for buttercream icing is very forgiving. If you have added too much sugar, you can thin it with milk, cream or even water. It is easy to adjust buttercream icing until it reaches your desired consistency.


Buttercream icing is best for covering the cakes, cupcakes, cookies etc. It is the primary glue between the fondant and cake. Royal icing, on the other hand, is used for piping intricate designs, creating letters and for gluing fondant or gum paste decorations to the surface of a cake, or for making flowers. It is ill-suited for covering cakes because it can crack on large or curvy areas.

Buttercream icing is not as finicky as royal icing. While the former has a good proportion of fats in it, Royal icing becomes soft when it comes in contact with grease or any kind of fat and loses its original candy like structure. Also, because of fats in it, buttercream icing provides a more luxuriant, rich flavor to the cakes that many prefer taste-wise over royal icing.

Storing royal icing is way easier than buttercream icing. Royal icing does not need refrigeration to remain fresh. In fact, it can be stored in an airtight container on the counter for two weeks. If it is used to make flowers and other decorative designs, it can last for a month on normal room temperature. Buttercream icing, because of its dairy nature, has a shorter life span. The unused icing should be stored in a refrigerator in an airtight container for two weeks at most. Once used, buttercream icing lasts for two to three days only if it is stored in a cool environment. For the same reasons, buttercream icing is more difficult to transport than royal icing.

From fruit puree to Nutella, buttercream icing is very well suited to a variety of flavorings because of its rich texture. In contrast, Royal icing is rarely the most nuanced of flavors. It may take somewhat bland (sweet) flavors but mostly it is preferable to use it as a decorative medium than a flavoring topping.


  • Royal icing is made of powdered sugar, water and meringue powder, it tastes very sweet, buttercream icing is made from powdered sugar, milk or cream, butter or shortening, and an extract, tastes buttery and creamy, buttercream icing has fats in it which makes it rich flavored and tasty, royal icing doesn’t have any fats in it

  • Used Royal icing can be stored in an airtight container and last for weeks while used buttercream icing lasts only for few days on shelf, this is why royal icing is easier to transport than the buttercream icing

  • Buttercream icing is best for covering the cakes royal icing can crack so it is ill-suited for covering large surfaces, it is best as a decorative medium for making flowers, letters etc. on the cakes

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