This unexpected ingredient ruined my holiday cookies!

a cream cheese frosted sugar cookie with sprinkles

We all put so much time, energy, money, and LOVE into our holiday baking that it’s a shame to let one unassuming little ingredient take it all down. Read on to find out how to protect your holiday goodies!

frosted Christmas cookies on a rack

My very first batch of holiday cookies was a complete fail

I love to bake cookies, and there’s no better time than the holidays ~ I finally have a reason to bake all day long, it’s heaven! I stock up on all the pantry essentials, and gather together my cookie cutters, rolling pins, and baking sheets. My ingredients are at room temperature, the butter and eggs are fresh, it’s a new bag of flour, and yes, I’ve even bought a new can of baking powder. I’m prepped and ready, what could go wrong?

frosted cookies with sprinkles on a cooling rack

what’s the unexpected ingredient that can ruin holiday cookies?

The other day I made my first batch of holiday cookies. I had just finished when my daughter, who has impeccable timing when it comes to fresh baked cookies, wandered into the kitchen. I did what I always do and picked out a couple for us to taste test. So far, so good.

After one bite it became apparent that something was wrong. It took us a while to sleuth it out…we tasted everything separately…the soft sugar cookies were perfect. The cream cheese frosting was delicious as always…

a cream cheese frosted sugar cookie with sprinkles

It was the sprinkles!

They’d gone bad. In fact, they tasted rancid, and the off flavor and smell was enough to spoil the whole batch of cookies. I was horrified, especially since I’d just bought them fresh this season. After I got over the shock, I did a little research.

baked sugar cookies with sprinkles

do sprinkles go bad?

Yes, some do, despite what you often read about them keeping forever. In fact that’s what I’ve always thought. I used to keep my holiday sprinkles year after year, don’t we all? Now I know better. From now on I’ll be tasting(or sniffing) before sprinkling, for sure. And I’ll be sure to toss any with a bad odor or off flavor.

oil is the culprit!

The main ingredients in most sprinkles include:

  • corn syrup
  • sugar
  • cornstarch or emulsifiers
  • wax or shellac
  • artificial food colorings
  • oil

Most of these ingredients do last a long time, and are resistant to spoiling, but oil is the culprit here as it can spoil and become rancid. And while many sprinkles can last years in a dry, dark spot like your pantry, some do go ‘off’. Rancid oil has a very distinctive odor, you might know it from whole grains, nuts and seeds, or cooking oils that have spoiled.

Christmas sprinkles

what do sprinkles taste like, anyway?

Sprinkles are not known for their wonderful flavor, in fact, they normally don’t have any taste at all ~ they’re purely decorative and add a textural element to baked goods.

At best sprinkles provide a festive color and a light crisp crunch to cookies (l love the tiny nonpareils on my sprinkled sugar cookies.)

I try to avoid large shaped sprinkles because, however cute, they really aren’t pleasant to eat. When I do use them, I use them sparingly (check out the cute collars on my gingerbread bears.)

If you’re baking for kids, sprinkles are almost always a good idea, but if you’re baking for a mixed audience, think twice before you sprinkle! Make sure they taste and smell fresh, and make sure they don’t overwhelm your delicious dessert.

green sprinkles on marble

how to tell if sprinkles have gone bad

Most often you can’t tell by looking at sprinkles if they’ve gone bad. You’ll really only know by smelling and tasting them. If they have an off flavor or smell, toss them.

can you use sprinkles past their expiration date?

Yes, if your sprinkles pass the taste and sniff test, you’re good to go, even if they’re a bit past their expiration date.

holding a stack of sprinkled sugar cookies

you can always make your own homemade sprinkles!

To be completely sure that your sprinkles are fresh, you can make them yourself. You’ll need a piping bag and small round tips for piping out the fine thread-like mixture that will dry so you can cut them into tiny sprinkles. You can make them in any color you can imagine! I’ll take you through the process here: How to Make Homemade Sprinkles!

frosted Christmas cookies with sprinkles

have some fun with sprinkles!

Now that you’re armed with the facts, go forth and sprinkle!

ebook prompt

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27 Comments

    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    CHRISTINE
    December 2, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Thank you, Sue! I just threw out all of my old sprinkles and ordered more. I order from Nuts.com , they are terrific! I use them for all my fresh dried fruit, nuts and cookie decorations.

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 2, 2021 at 3:15 pm

      I’ve used Nuts.com before and they are good!

  • Reply
    Sue Laue
    December 2, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Crazy! I was just getting ingredients out for our homemade chocolate dipped pretzels. I always sprinkle with nonpariels, colored sugars (red & green) and sprinkles. I actually called Michael’s this morning to see if they have the Christmas themed sprinkles, they do. I’ll definitely do a sniff and taste test before sprinkling. BTW, the homemade chocolate dipped pretzels taste great, in my opinion. ?

  • Reply
    Betsy Henze
    December 2, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Sue, Can you please share your best source for purchasing sprinkles? Your’s look beautiful and fun! I can’t seem to find the a good selection! Thank you!

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 2, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      There are quite a lot of online sources that have a huge variety, one commenter mentioned Nuts.com. And, like I said in the post, discount department stores have great selections, but you just have to check them before using. I do like Williams Sonoma, and Wilton brand, which you can find all over, is a good one.

  • Reply
    Sandra D in Joliet
    December 2, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Been there, done that but with other recipes and ingredients. Recently Mom made her no-fail pie crust in the food processor and it didn’t roll out smoothly. I asked what she did different because I just knew ……well, she used lard instead of Crisco. I made another batch after fetching some Crisco and it turned out as usual. Sometimes it’s not worth the time or money to switch ingredients, which is not the case with you. Can you keep them in the freezer or fridge? I don’t use Olive Oil as often as some so I store it in the fridge and put the bottle under hot water or set it out early because it solidifies but I’ve never had rancid OO since. I keep my Sesame Seeds in the freezer after reading how they turn rancid. Some packaging tells you to refrigerate or freeze if you won’t be using it all soon but so many don’t.

  • Reply
    Anita
    December 2, 2021 at 9:01 am

    Woah, thanks for the information as it’s a surprise to me as well!

  • Reply
    Janet
    December 2, 2021 at 8:32 am

    This comes as a surprise! I’ll be checking mine from here on out. Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jonker
    December 2, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Where do you recommend buying sprinkles, sparkling sugars,etc.?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 2, 2021 at 9:03 am

      Great question, I should add this to the post ~ knowing what I know now, I would buy them either from your regular large grocery store, where the stock turns over often, or from a specialty store like Williams Sonoma, etc. I think I would avoid discount stores like Home Goods, Marshalls, etc. That’s not to say that those stores don’t have wonderful stuff, but I do get the impression that food items aren’t as fresh or reliable.

      • Reply
        Sue Moran
        December 2, 2021 at 9:08 am

        My spoiled sprinkles were technically fresh according to the expiration date, and were bought last month from Home Goods.

  • Reply
    Laurie
    December 2, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Thanks for this tip. I had no idea. I will buy new because mine were old!

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 2, 2021 at 9:04 am

      Glad I could help, and happy baking 🙂

    • Reply
      Alene
      December 3, 2021 at 8:27 pm

      Mine are ancient, I am sure. Thank you for mentioning this. Sorry you had to toss stuff. I toss occasionally because my gluten free attempts don’t always work. It’s never fun.

  • Reply
    Betsy Glorch
    December 2, 2021 at 8:11 am

    Whoa, thanks! Now, gotta go through all my sprinkles!

  • Reply
    Ellen Easton
    December 2, 2021 at 7:28 am

    Oh, wow, what important information to learn. Thanks so much for this teaching moment. Who knew? EE

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