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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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    sarah maske
    December 11, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    Those multi green sprinkles you have in your pics were the SAME sprinkles I bought this year and were wretchedly rancid! ?

  • Reply
    December 6, 2021 at 8:22 am

    This was such a jaw-dropping revelation! My vast sprinkles collection is renowned—in fact, instead of “Grandma” my grandchildren just call me “Sprinkles!” While I have not experienced rancid sprinkles thus far, I will now be cognizant of this peril! Thank you for the tip!

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 6, 2021 at 8:53 am

      That’s hysterical Nancy, I mean ‘Sprinkles’!!

  • Reply
    December 6, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Where do you get your sprinkles.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    Have you read about “Sprinklegate”?! Some US-made sprinkles are illegal in the UK, but this British baker refuses to use inferior English sprinkles. Growing up in England we always called them “Hundreds and Thousands” I haven’t eaten any since those days…

  • Reply
    December 4, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    I thought it was just me this happened to, so disappointing and frustrating. Will always taste ahead of time! Thx for this post!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2021 at 11:54 am

    Hello! Did I miss something about if sprinkles can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer? And your cookies are beautiful! I especially like the white balls of different sizes with the straight green sprinkles!

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      December 3, 2021 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks Rachel, and yes, I love those too, but they were the ones that were spoiled!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2021 at 6:05 am

    I had no idea that sprinkles could go bad… I’m going to investigate my stash now.

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