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How to Make Buttercream Frosting Less Sweet

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If you think frosting is too sweet, don’t despair. I’m sharing some tips and tricks to tone down the powdered sugar flavor.

Piped swirl of smooth and creamy Russian buttercream frosting with condensed milk.

There is nothing quite like homemade frosting.  It makes such a difference on a cake. In fact the best way to make a cake mix taste homemade is top it with homemade frosting!

American buttercream tends to be the frosting everyone knows to make.  It is quick, easy and forgiving, but a lot of people find it to be too sweet. I’ve got some tips to help make it taste a little less sweet.

Additions and substitutions you can make to American buttercream to make it less sweet 

1. One of my favorite ways to tone down the sweet in American buttercream is to add a bit of lemon juice.  I did that in my perfect not too sweet buttercream recipe.  

Of course the sour lemon will help cut through the sugar.  Use a bit of lemon in place of some of the milk can cut the sweet without making it super lemony.  Start small and work your way up until you get it where you like it! 

Hands holding container of cupcakes with buttercream flowers on top.

2. This may seem overly simplified, but use less sugar.  You can up the fat to sugar ratio and still have a tasty frosting.  If you are worried about the finished frosting tasting too much like butter, sub in some shortening.  The neutral flavor and wider range of temperatures it can remain stable in make it a great option in an instance like this. 

3. Use heavy cream to soften the frosting and whip it well. Adding extra cream will help dilute the final sugar ratio. Flavor as desired and enjoy!

4. Add a little extra salt.  Salt helps cut the sweet flavor as well.  Don’t add so much that it tastes salty, just enough to balance out the sugar.  Start with just a pinch at a time and taste as you go. Adding too much can quickly take it from making it better to making it worse in a hurry!

5. The tang of cream cheese is another great way to counteract all of the powdered sugar.  The only issue is cream cheese has a tendency to make a softer frosting.  

Hand holding mixer paddle filled with fluffy white buttercream frosting.

Start by substituting a tablespoon or two of butter with cream cheese and play with it until you like it.  Or just go for the cream cheese flavor and make decorator’s cream cheese frosting. It has a great balance of tang, sweet and stability! 

Still too sweet? Try making a frosting other than American buttercream

If you have tried some of these options and they are still too sweet, don’t worry. There are still plenty of great options for you.  

Most of them involve either cooking flour into a paste or pudding or making a meringue and then turning those into frosting.

cupcake topped with various piped buttercream flower designs.

Italian meringue buttercream, for example takes a meringue and whips in butter for a fluffy not too sweet finish. It has the benefit of being pretty heat stable as well! 

Russian buttercream is super creamy and doesn’t use any powdered sugar. It is just butter, vanilla, and condensed milk, so it is smooth and not overly sweet.

Ermine frosting is another great option. It is one of the two classic toppings for red velvet cake in the south. You make a paste of milk, sugar and flour and beat that into butter. 

The result is a fluffy whipped frosting that isn’t overly sweet.  It tastes almost more like a whipped cream. 

There are several other ways to add meringues and puddings to frosting to result in super smooth and not too sweet buttercream. 

Find out all about them and all of the different types of frosting in my Frosting 101: A Guide to the Types of Frosting.

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Monday 4th of September 2023

THANK YOU! I made a batch of frosting for my son’s birthday but it was waaay too sweet. I followed your suggestions: salt and lemon juice to fix it and it worked!


Monday 4th of September 2023

Yay! I am so glad I could help.

Big Rigs 'n Lil' Cookies

Friday 4th of October 2019

Such great tips!! I will be trying the lemon juice tip for sure. Love the T-shirt!