The Adorable Meaning Of 'Zucchero Impalpabile'

Pick out any Italian dessert from behind a glass case and you're bound to find that it has some greater historical symbolism. According to a legend relayed by the BBC, cannoli were invented in the Sicilian city of Caltanissetta during Arab rule by harem women who wanted to "exalt their emir's masculinity." A popular legend behind doughnut-like zeppole, which are typically eaten during the Festa di San Giuseppe (or Saint Joseph's Day), claims that Saint Joseph made his living selling them when he fled Egypt. Biscotti came to be in 14th-century Tuscani and were exalted for their resistance to mold, which made them a favorite snack for sailors and later for Romans who traveled long distances during the European Renaissance.

This is all to say that Italians seriously revere their sweets — it's no wonder Giuseppe Dell'Anno won the latest season of "The Great British Bake Off." And while every Italian treat is unique, many of them share one thing in common: zucchero impalpabile, also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar. But why don't Italians use the direct translation, zucchero a velo? The simple answer is: it wouldn't be as cute, and no one agrees more than Lucy Worsley, a BBC presenter who serves as the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

Nectar of the gods

In a Facebook post, Worsley expressed the same level of excitement about her discovery of the term's meaning as the Italians do toward creating sugary confections. She writes, "Will you kindly allow me to make your day better? I shall do so by telling you Italians call icing sugar 'zucchero impalpabile.' ICING SUGAR = IMPALPABLE SUGAR. You're welcome."

Cognates are pulling their weight here, but if you're rusty on your vocab words, "impalpable" means "incapable of being felt by touch." Other things that may fit that description for your average Italian Catholic might include angels, the heavens, and God himself. 

You don't need to live in proximity to the Mediterranean coast or practice any religion to appreciate the angelic quality of confectioner's sugar falling like snow onto a short-stack of pancakes. But thanks to the Italians, you can impress your friends the next time you share a plate of cannoli by commenting on the beauty of the zucchero impalpabile dusted on top.