Cupcakes vs. Muffins – What’s the Difference?

Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

Have you ever wondered what actually differentiates cupcakes and muffins? You may be surprised to learn that it’s more than just frosting. Step into any grocery store, and you’re likely to find rows of pre-packaged and freshly-baked muffins masquerading as innocent breakfast treats. The truth is, however, that many store-bought muffins are nothing more than cake in disguise. Read on to learn more about how to tell the difference. 


Genuine muffins are prepared using a specific technique aptly referred to as “the muffin method.” This method involves mixing dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls before combining them to create the batter. Muffin recipes tend to require less sugar and fat, whether it be butter or oil, than cupcake recipes. The result is a dense, bread-like crumb that works well with both sweet and savory mix-ins such as dried fruit or cheese.


Cupcakes are single-serving cakes typically prepared in the same type of pan as muffins, but the similarities end there. Because cupcakes are a type of dessert, recipes tend to include copious amounts of butter, oil, and sugar. Once prepared, cupcakes are usually topped with frosting or ganache for decoration, though not always. Most commercial “muffins” are actually cupcakes without frosting.

The Takeaway

While cupcakes and muffins are both absolutely fine in moderation, it’s important to be aware of their differences so that you can make the best choice for your nutritional needs. For an occasional treat, you may be fine with a cupcake “muffin,” but for mornings when you’re looking to stay full and focused, you’re probably better off with the real deal.