Sugar Flower Terminology + Definitions

Decorating Cakes

New to the world of cake decorating and sugar artistry? I remember back when I first started, I had no idea what the difference between gumpaste and fondant was. The cake terminology might sound complex, but I’m here to break down the Sugar Flower terms and definitions you’re most likely to come across when you’re learning how to make Sugar Flowers or shopping around to find the best, premade Sugar Flowers for your next edible masterpiece. And yes, I’m totally including pictures!

Blush and Rose Gold Open Rose Sugar Flower on a one tier cake

Sugar Flower

Sugar Flowers are a food-safe alternative to fresh flowers. They don’t wilt, they don’t attract bees, they don’t contain pollen or toxins (lookin’ at you, Lily of the Valley) or pesticides.

They are made from a clay-like dough called gumpaste (also known as sugar paste in other parts of the world) and dry rock hard. If stored correctly (away from heat, humidity, and light) they can be stored for years.

Sugar Flowers can be made in any color and can look as real or as imaginary as a sugar artist’s creativity can make them.

Sugar Flower Terminology: Ingredients + Creation

Fondant

I like to describe fondant as like edible play-doh. You can create little sculptures with it but most commonly it is used in a very fine, thin layer over buttercream to decorate cakes and give them a smooth finish.

People usually feel very strongly about fondant, they either love it or hate it. I think the best of both worlds is to have a nice thick frosting of buttercream or ganache on your cake, which is then covered with a super-thin fondant layer.

I don’t like using fondant to make Sugar Flowers because it doesn’t dry as hard and can be more brittle when it’s dry (the moisture of the cake keeps the fondant covering from getting brittle, though)

Gumpaste

My favorite medium to work with! Gumpaste is made from a few very simple ingredients: egg whites, sugar, tylose, and shortening.

Gumpaste is a clay-like consistency that starts to dry quickly. The gumpaste is rolled out thin to make the petals and then left to harden before assembling into flowers. Once gumpaste is dry, it contains no moisture and is shelf-stable. (Basically, you can store them forever)

Sugarpaste

Another word for gumpaste, used to make sugarpaste flowers

Pastillage

Another word for gumpaste, used to make pastillage flowers

Stamens

This is the center part of open flowers (roses and peonies for example)

If you want to get scientific about it, stamens are made out of an anther and filament. But for our purposes, stamens are the cloth/plastic centerpieces that the petals are wrapped around.

I often dip the stamens in a metallic color to make them look elegant and shiny.

Petal

Sugar Flower petals can either be wired (see: open roses, tulips, peonies) or they can all be attached together to one central stem (see: dahlias, ranunculus, lisianthus)

The flowers with wired petals are wrapped tightly in foam during shipping, so you can open them up to fluff up your flower and bring it to its maximum size. It’s also easy to remove a chipped or damaged petal.

For non-wired petals, like on a dahlia, everything is rigid and attached together with an edible glue that dries rock hard. If a petal breaks off of a dahlia, for example, you can dab some edible glue at the base of the petal and let it dry for 24 before using.

Floral Wire

Thin, paper-covered wires that are inserted into petals and whole flowers to give them stability.

I use floral wire in all my flowers because this is the easiest and most secure way to anchor them to your cake.

Floral Tape

Floral tape gets sticky when you stretch it out, so you can wrap it around floral wires and they will all come together to form the central stem of a flower or branch.

Metallic Highlighter

I use a nontoxic metallic highlighter for coloring stamens and adding gold or silver details to Sugar Flowers.

It is not edible but is safe to use as a cake decoration.

Always make sure you remove Sugar Flowers from your cake before serving.

Food Coloring

I used edible powders and gels to add color to the gumpaste or to paint/dust color on top of the dried flowers.

One of my favorite food color brands is Roxy & Rich because their colors are so vibrant and concentrated. Here’s a little more info about food coloring from their website:

Yes. All of our food colouring products are edible. We do not produce nontoxic (inedible) colouring products. However, while some colouring products are considered edible in some countries, they may not meet food safety standards established in other countries. All of our products feature labels that clearly state compliance or non-compliance with Canadian, American or European standards.

United States: All of our colouring products are edible and comply with FDA food safety standards, EXCEPT: 1) the Highlighter collection which meets Canadian and European food safety standards only; 2) colours T2-091 to T2-115 from the Hybrid Petal Dust collection which were developed for the Canadian market and meet Health Canada food safety standards only. Labels on these colours warn customers from the United States to use for decorative purposes only.

Tylose

The magic ingredient in gumpaste is tylose, which is a powdered thickener that makes the gumpaste, well… a paste. It’s sometimes called CMC powder, and it has other culinary uses like as a thickener in ice cream.

Edible Glue

This is a mixture of water and tylose powder that forms a very sticky glue-like substance that is ideal for attaching petals together. It dries mostly clear.

I make my edible glue from scratch but you can also buy it premade.

Confectionery glaze

This is an edible glaze that is often used to coat chocolate and candies to make them shiny. I use them to set colors so they don’t rub off of the flowers, and to make leaves look glossier. It is VERY sticky stuff. I like the aerosol version but it gets very messy. I also use a diluted liquid version.

Safety Seal

This is an FDA-approved food-safe wax for dipping your flower stems into. Once it hardens, you can stick your flowers directly into your cake and it is a barrier between the flower and the cake.

Flower pics / posy pics

These are little plastic tubes with the bottom closed off, often with a pointy end for easily sticking them into your cake. You stick the pic into the cake, then stick the floral wire into the pic. This creates a barrier between the flower and the cake.

Sugar Flower Terminology: Styling + Decorating

Bundle

Kelsie Cakes will mix and match different flowers for popular design combinations. I call them Bundles and they make it quick and easy to select the flowers you need for your cake. Not sure what size you need? There’s a quiz for that!

Arrangement

The Sugar Flowers I make at Kelsie Cakes are always made individually so that they can be safely packaged and shipped to you. You have the greatest flexibility in putting your Sugar Flowers on your cake this way as well. When I am designing a custom order for you, I refer to your order as an arrangement since the flowers will be…well, arranged on your cake!

spray of sugar flower blossoms

Spray

This is a floral wire stem with a mix of Sugar Flowers and/or leaves that are all taped together (with floral tape) into a branch-like arrangement. I don’t typically sell Sugar Flower sprays because I prefer to have you decorate the cake however you see fit, instead of making you do it my way.

Color matching

All of the Sugar Flowers made by Kelsie Cakes are made by hand in small batches, so some differences in color may occur. Plus, all phone, computer, and tablet screens can be different, especially in different environments, so the colors won’t look the same in person as they do on the computer screen.

Because these are handmade items, the white flowers aren’t a true almost-blue commercial white but a creamier, warmer off-white. The blush flowers are also on the warmer and peachier side of the spectrum.

Room temperature

I keep my studio between 67-77° F. I live in Florida so it gets pretty hot during the summer. In the winter, it almost never gets cold enough for the temperature to drop below 67°.

This is my ideal range for keeping the Sugar Flowers from melting in the heat or getting too brittle in the cold.

Open Rose

This is my most popular flower. It is more of a fantasy design than a botanically correct open rose, although it is absolutely inspired by nature. For a more natural-looking open rose, see my heirloom roses. I started making them back in 2016 in the early days of my shop and they are so fun to combine different colors and sizes.

Sugar Flower Arrangement with Burnt Orange Dahlias and Navy Tulips

Kelsie Cakes

(Okay not specifically Sugar Flower terminology, but perhaps useful to know nonetheless!)

I know the name is a bit of a misnomer… I’m Kelsie but I don’t make cakes (anymore). I’d be happy to refer you to friends who make amazing cakes and desserts but my focus now is Sugar Flowers.

Where did the name come from? My cousin’s daughter started calling me Kelsie Cakes when she was a toddler and I thought it was super cute. That’s what I named my original OG Blogger blog back when I was in high school (it started off as Cakes by Kelsie, but that didn’t have the same ring to it) and Kelsie Cakes has stuck with me ever since.

Now you know what these terms mean, but what about figuring out what size flower you need? I’ve got the perfect quiz for you to check out next to help you with that.

PS: This blog post does contain affiliate links, but I only link to products I use and love. You won’t pay an extra but using my link helps keep my website running.