It’s not an ingredient that you’ll see called for too often in American cookbooks, but you’re sure to see custard powder mentioned in cookbooks published in the UK or Australia, or even in the pages of foodie magazines imported from either country. I used some recently in my recipe for Vanilla Slices. Custard powder is not dried, powdered custard. It is actually a powdered mix used to make custard, and it is very similar to the type of mix used to make instant pudding in the US. Just combine it with milk, cook to thicken, and you have custard (or pudding)!
Custard powder is primarily made up of thickeners that give the pudding its texture. Cornstarch is usally the biggest component, since it is great for thickening liquids, disolves easily and is almost foolproof. The powder also contains flavorings – vanilla is the one you’re most likely to find in a “standard” custard powder – and a hint of yellow coloring. Yellow coloring gives the custard just enough color to look as though there are plenty of eggs in it, as most basic custards are thickend with eggs instead of powder.
You can find custard powder at some specialty markets and some markets that specialize in imports from other countries. If you’re traveling abroad, you should be able to find it pretty easily. Birds’s is a big name in custard powder, but even Pillsbury produces it for other markets. If you can’t find it, instant pudding mix is a great substitute.
LisaNovember 12, 2009
Or you could just make real custard, which is really not that much more complicated.
Carole ResnickNovember 12, 2009
I agree, Lisa.
JuliaNovember 12, 2009
The famous (infamous?) Canadian confection Nanaimo Bar also uses custard powder. I lived in Toronto last year and it was easy to find up there. I’ve seen it at World Market in Virginia.
Thanks for your great blog!
NicoleNovember 12, 2009
Lisa – I totally agree, but it is nice to know what different ingredients are when they appear in recipes. And having an ultra-quick way to make a little custard sauce to drizzle over a slice of warm chocolate cake isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either! =)
ManasiNovember 12, 2009
Custard powder is used a lot in India too. For the longest time I had no idea real custard is made from eggs. We used the custard powder thickened milk to pour over our fruit salads. In US, you can find custard powder in Indian grocery stores.
Nutmeg NannyNovember 12, 2009
I have some of this sitting my cabinet:) Used it last year when I made some mint cookie bars for Christmas…yum!
Richard @ The Bewildered BritNovember 12, 2009
“a hint of yellow coloring”: all the ones I’ve seen in the UK seem to have so much colouring in them that they’re pretty much day-glo yellow!
Is there actually much difference between instant custard and instant pudding mix? I’m not really a fan of either, but I was under the impression that they were pretty much identical (well, the vanilla flavour of pudding mix, at least).
rogerferrisNovember 13, 2009
very nice post..awesome
SarahNovember 13, 2009
Ahhhh as another reader mentioned, NANAIMOS! If you’ve never had a nanaimo you are missing out!!! Its like a brownie/cookie bottom, custard/frosting middle and another layer of chocolate. And the possibilities are endless if you’re not a fan of the traditional custard frosting in the middle.
I am canadian, and this was a staple for baking in my house. Most always for Nanaimos, but I’ve thrown it in cookies too. I think the flavor of birds renders something completely different then vanilla pudding powder, but thats just me!
CostPlus Worldd Market carries this, as well as a few select grocery stores, at least in UT! YUM!
SyinNovember 13, 2009
I have that exact box of custard powder as a permanent fixture in my food cupboard… which, considering the tiny size of my cupboard is saying a lot. It takes me two minutes and a microwave to whip up a generous portion of custard to pour over any dessert, top with fresh fruit for a snack, or when I’m sick, to eat plain and hot. Sure, making it from scratch is ridiculously easy, but if you can get it cheap and much more healthily, why not?
CakeSpyNovember 13, 2009
Awesome–and as someone mentioned above, a vital ingredient in making decadent, dreamy Nanaimo Bars!
SeaShoreNovember 14, 2009
As mentioned, Naniamo bars! As a Canadian, that’s the first thing I thought of when I saw that familiar can. BTW, calling them Naniamos became common in the 80s, before then there were lots of names, and I suspect other countries/regions call them different things. I still have my Grandmother’s copy of the recipe called “Tweedies”.
winstorl-vNovember 19, 2009
I have trouble finding this custard in stores in WV. My grandmother gave me the recipe to make homemade custard for pies so I normally just make it. Really is simple and easy.
WendyFebruary 7, 2010
But custard powder can be used for more than just custard. I make fantastic biscuits with the powder as the “secret” ingredient. Of course, I also grew up with this being the only custard I had ever known!!
Life-abetesNovember 4, 2010
FYI: Custard powder was originally created by Mr. Bird for his wife who was allergic to eggs…..
Posti4March 22, 2011
This came in so handy! Thank you
MarthaMarch 28, 2011
Very interesting, the article AND comments. I had NEVER heard of this until my daughter just called me and asked me what it was, as she had a recipe (?!) calling for it. Don’t know WHERE the recipe came from, but it was for chocolate cheesecake….
BethanyMarch 30, 2012
@Martha: That is really funny. I am in a cooking class at my high school, and we are having a cheese cake war! The recipe I like best is indeed chocolate cheescake! My mom didn’t know what it was, either. Lol
RrdocJune 25, 2012
All interesting comments. As a vegan, I do not eat ANY animal products. Bird’s custard powder allows many recipes without adding any eggs. French vanilla ice cream for one!
xineSeptember 9, 2012
Will lion’s custard powder be a good substitute for Bird’s in nanaimo bars? I really want to make those and I don’t think Bird’s is available in the Philippines
SergeyDecember 11, 2012
Just read ingredient list of any Custard Powder of Instant Pudding
If it doesn’t discourage you – use this stuff.
I made instant custard from scratch. 1 cup milk – 1 TB cornstarch – sugar, flavorings to taste
sukhimFebruary 18, 2013
Never heard of it. Does it really have egg in it for thickening?
JodiApril 9, 2013
Wow… This is interesting… I am a new zealander and custard powder is a staple in every new Zealand cupboard! Trifles, yo yo biscuits, cakes, custard squares, hot custard and ice cream just to name a few of the many uses for custard powder 🙂 I always assumed it was world famous stuff… Edmonds is the brand we carry here… Love it! Never mind the premise stuff appearing ready made in cartons here these days…….
JodiApril 9, 2013
CarrieMay 27, 2013
the custard powder is NOT vegan.
Sugar, Modified Starch, Whey Powder, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Cream Powder, Milk Proteins, Thickeners (Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Carrageenan), Flavourings, Colours (Beta Carotene, Annatto)
Good for vegetarians but not vegan
Ann SharkeyJune 7, 2013
Traditional custard powder ingredients are Cornflour, Salt, Colour (Annatto), Flavouring so it is vegan if prepared with a non-dairy milk
Rowena WilliamsSeptember 13, 2013
Hi, replying to Carrie.When you go on the website it gives the recipe for low fat instant custard which is not vegan but, if you click on the right hand arrow it takes you to the Birds original custard powder which is definitely vegan as you have to add the non-dairy milk of you choice.By the way the fresh coconut milk called Koko is really nice and doesn’t have that nasty aftertaste that you get with soya.
JoyceJanuary 18, 2014
I have never heard of custard powder either. I just saw a recipe for Nanaimo? Bars, (which I have also never heard of) & this sounds like a great recipe my family would love. I have a great egg custard pie recipe, but I don’t see how regular custard pie would work in this recipe. Am I wrong? I hope I can perhaps order it off the internet since it may be hard to find in a small southern town. Thanks for the comments. Love to bake, as well as try new things from other places. Does anyone know the origin of the Nanaime bar name?
AmyJanuary 21, 2014
Nanaimo bars are named for the place on Vancouver Island in Canada that they originally (supposedly!) came from; they are lovely and decadent.
You can use instant vanilla pudding in place of it, but Amazon and other online retailers do carry the Bird’s Custard Powder; I’m just getting ready to use some (for the first time) in shortbread, as I’ve done the four pans of Nanaimo bars that I purchased it for. (A little goes a pretty long way, but it does last a while.)
Ann HayesDecember 12, 2015
The reason custard powder was made in the first place is so the wife of the inventor could have custard. She was allergic to eggs. I am allergic to eggs. I love custard made with Birds Custard Powder. Try it, and you will understand why t’s so popular in Britain. Try it hot on apple pie. Save me some.
Beryl VassilieffFebruary 3, 2016
I was amazed to read how many people did not know what custard powder is! It is very common in Australia and has been for years. I particularly love it hot over a Christmas Pudding or in a Trifle.
Jane smithOctober 11, 2016
Custard powder was first made by a pharmacist who’s wife was allergic to eggs. It’s a great dessert for people with egg allergies.
BarbaraMarch 12, 2018
I had to Google to find out what it was. I’m glad I read all the way through. I won’t substitute with Jello! I read early on it was at Walmart. I too am going to make Nanaimo Bars which I also never heard of.