Custard vs. Pudding: What’s the Big Difference?

We love custards and puddings and their creamy, sweet flavors, but we don't always remember the difference between these dessert classics. We'll settle this confusion once and for all.

When it comes to dessert, nothing’s yummier than a cup of pudding or custard. Lucious and creamy, a good old-fashioned custard or tasty pudding can feel like the ultimate indulgence, but we often get tripped up on what the difference is between these two desserts. So we’re here to settle the confusion and tell you definitively what is custard and what is pudding.

What’s pudding?

First, when we talk about pudding, we’re not talking about the instant, packaged kind that is whisked with cold milk—although these convenient mixes yield desserts that are dreamy and delicious in their own ways (like this peanut butter-meets-chocolate favorite). Here, we’re sticking to true puddings—the comforting, old-fashioned-style dessert that Grandma cooked on the stovetop and was proud to include in her repertoire.

An authentic pudding is a sweetened milk- or cream-based mixture that is thickened with a gelatinized starch, usually cornstarch or flour, then cooked in a saucepan on the stove. This classic treat boasts great versatility as a dessert, as it can be incorporated into a trifle (these 10 are worth trying!), parfait or simply eaten on its own. The toughest choice? Deciding on vanilla or chocolate. Or branch out with a fun new flavor like pumpkin or mochaccino.

How is custard different?

Custard is pudding’s close cousin and is typically made of eggs, sugar and milk, and is either baked or stirred using gentle heat. While most custard and pudding recipes both typically call for eggs, the main difference is that pudding uses a starch for thickening, whereas custard’s thickening agent is the egg itself (or egg yolk, in most instances). Custard’s texture also tends to be firmer than pudding. Here are a few tips for making vanilla custard ice cream.

Like pudding, custard can be layered into trifles, topped with berries or enjoyed on its own. But its big claim to fame is restaurant-style desserts like pots de creme and creme brulee. It can also be baked into pies, bread puddings and more.

The takeaway

Unfortunately, neither pudding nor custard rank high in the make-ahead category. They are best eaten the same day they’re made, although their lifespan can be stretched a day or two (that is, if there’s any left).

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying these silky, spoonable sensations. Whether you’re hosting an elegant dinner party or simply seeking the perfect grand finale to a weeknight meal, pudding and custard always hit the sweet spot!

Next up: Here’s how to make the perfect burnt-sugar top on creme brulee. (Tap, tap, tap!)

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Amy Glander
Amy is a book editor at Taste of Home where she gets to pour her passions for food and storytelling into trade and series cookbooks. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her antiquing, cooking and baking from her favorite vintage cookbooks and exploring Milwaukee’s urban beauty with her digital SLR in hand.