Can You Really Improve Fried Chicken With Powdered Sugar?

Fried chicken isn't one of those recipes that's easy to nail on the first try. While the components are simple — flour, buttermilk, chicken, and cooking oil — the ratios of each one in addition to your frying technique can determine whether you end up with fried chicken that's soggy and bland, or that rivals KFC's. To get flavorful results, most recipes call for adding herbs and spices to the flour, and some also suggest an overnight brine or even mixing bacon fat into the cooking oil. The texture is where it gets tricky.

While a neutral oil with a high smoke point can help the chicken fry properly, it's really the flour mixture that makes the difference. Jacques Pépin, for example, uses low-protein Wondra flour because it crisps up better, and many Korean fried chicken recipes include cornstarch as well as flour. Both Wondra flour and cornstarch yield crispy fried chicken, but they don't contribute much in terms of flavor. That's where powdered sugar comes in.

Try adding powdered sugar to your fried chicken batter

You might find brown sugar in marinades and sauces, but powdered sugar on the other hand is usually reserved for desserts and sweets. According to self-proclaimed "cowboy cook" Kent Rollins however, powdered sugar is a crucial ingredient in fried chicken (via Instagram). Rollins prepares his fried chicken as most people normally do, but in his dry mixture, along with flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and a slew of different seasonings, he also adds powdered sugar.

So why the extra ingredient? Rollins explains that it produces the "crispiest, tenderest" fried chicken, though The Kitchn points out that it may also have something to do with the flavor. Many fried chicken recipes, including Rollins', call for tangy ingredients like buttermilk and pickle juice, and the addition of something sweet can even out those elements ever so slightly. If you want to enhance not just the texture of your fried chicken but also the flavor, powdered sugar seems to be one of your best bets.

Why does powdered sugar produce crispier fried chicken?

If a recipe uses powdered sugar over granulated sugar, it's likely due to its ability to dissolve. That's not the reason it works so well in fried chicken, however. Instead, it's the fact that powdered sugar doesn't retain as much moisture as flour. According to America's Test Kitchen, fried chicken becomes soggy when the moisture absorbed by the protein in the flour starts to escape. Less protein means less moisture, the outlet explains, which is why cornstarch, having no protein at all (via Very Well Fit), produces crispier fried chicken than flour.

Powdered sugar also has zero protein in it (via Nutritionix). It works similarly in fried chicken because it isn't just finely ground sugar, contrary to what you might assume. Powdered sugar is also made up of cornstarch, which means you can't substitute it for granulated sugar in fried chicken. You need the starch to provide structure, and the sugar to add flavor, and because neither retains moisture, it results in fried chicken with the perfect crunch and taste.