Buttercream and frosting have been used interchangeably for years, despite the differences between the two cake coatings. While there are several differences, the main one will become obvious in a minute, as you explore this guide on the distinctions between ‘Team Frosting’ and ‘Team Buttercream.’


The best way to distinguish frosting from buttercream is through the ingredients. While both contain powdered sugar, fat, flavouring and sometimes milk or water, frosting does not contain any butter whatsoever. Instead, frosting is usually made with shortening or cream cheese.

Shortening or cream cheese-based frostings are a good option for bright white cake designs, as there’s no yellowing tint from the butter that’s present in buttercreams. This will allow for either a pure white frosting experience or allow any colour that added to be as true as possible.

The downside to shortening-based frostings is that they can have a slightly chemical aftertaste. Shortening doesn’t have any flavour to it, leaving room for the taste of any artificial flavouring from the colouring products or additives to come through. However, this can be remedied by using high-quality extracts or natural pastes when making frosting.


As the name suggests, buttercream contains butter, which gives the cake coating a richer flavour. It also makes the buttercream lush and prevents it from being overly sweet. When making buttercream from scratch, it’s important to make sure that whatever butter you’re using is at room temperature. This is what will allow the cream to blend out to be as smooth as possible. Using hardened butter will leave the buttercream lumpy.

Are They Interchangeable?

Any recipe can be subject to change. If you’re out of butter and a recipe calls for the use of buttercream, there’s no harm in switching to the frosting. Both should result in similar textures if made correctly.

If all you have available to you is store-bought frosting, then that’s no problem. Mixing it together with some butter, good quality vanilla extract or paste, in a bowl with a whisk or electric mixer, should provide you with a frosting that others will think you made from scratch.

Which is Better?

That all comes down to personal preference. To figure it out for yourself, make a batch of each and see with one works best for your needs. Buttercream tends to be more stable, taste better and produce a smooth finish if mixed well. Shortening-based frosting, while the best at providing true to colour options, can be a bit greasy, prone to producing lumps and have an odd texture. But again, depending on the recipe used and what you’re looking for, both cake coatings are popular for a reason.

At Sweet E’s Pastries and Sweets, we’re a unique cake and pastry boutique located in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver, British Columbia. Our cake artists have been providing a playful yet modern spirit throughout the staff’s old school artisanship since we opened our door in Fall, 2005. Give us a call to order custom cookies, a large number of baked goods or just to chat!