Difference between: pudding and custard

This week we are examining pudding and custard.

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  • Pudding: a thick, soft, dessert, typically containing flour or some other thickener, milk, eggs, a flavoring, and a sweetener.
  • Custard: a dessert made of eggs, sugar, milk, either baked, boiled, or frozen.

Right away, we can see a pretty clear problem with the literal definitions of the two dairy-based treats: pudding – as most of us know it – often contains eggs.

The thing is, the word “pudding” has been used to describe many different desserts over the years. Even today, the term has different connotations in the US versus the UK; British folks use “pudding” to describe nearly any dessert.

Pudding as modern day Americans picture it is in fact very similar to custard, which is why we find the need to question the difference between the two.

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The first puddings were more savory than sweet, and meat-based, such as with black pudding which traditionally includes sausage.

Around the 1600s sweeter puddings, which were boiled, began to become more popular, particularly in America after settlers made their way over. 

Custard can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and was more of what we consider pudding to be today: a creamy dessert that can be eaten alone, or as a filling in pies or pastries.

Most puddings as we think of them use a custard base, and are then thickened with corn starch. There are exceptions to this, as with bread pudding, tapioca pudding, or rice pudding.

Custards come in more different forms than pudding. Creme brulee is a custard, as is flan, and there are many fruit based custards. Of course, frozen custard is a favorite of many as well – there are even custard based ice creams. 

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While pudding is usually cooked on a stovetop, custard is typically baked (if not frozen) and has a bit more firmness to it than pudding.

Both desserts can be trickier to put together than they appear at first, given how few ingredients are involved. Pudding and custard are more popular in their sweeter forms, but savory versions exist for each. 

To recap: Creamy pudding is very similar to custard, but is cooked differently, and is usually thickened more so with cornstarch than with eggs.