Does Brown Sugar Go Bad?

Look at just about any product on a grocery store aisle and you will see things lie an “Expiration Date” or “Best Before N” stamped onto the packaging. Sometimes these designations are just for the store’s sake, they can check to see if the product, which may still be perfectly good, needs to be thrown into the trash. This article is concerned with assessing whether or not brown sugar can go bad, followed by an examination of why or why not. After all, there is no sense in tossing a perfectly good container of brown sugar just because the calendar indicates that it is one day past the container’s expiration date.


Defining the Item in Question

It is important to define our terms before we go into further detail. Regular table sugar, commonly called granulated sugar or just “sugar,” is sucrose, a “disaccharide” that results from combining glucose and fructose. Brown sugar, on the other hand, is table sugar that has been enhanced or otherwise treated with molasses. The addition of molasses is what makes brown sugar brown. Brown sugar is further distinguished by being light or dark-a designation derived from the molasses content of the brown sugar. Light brown sugar contains around 3.5% molasses and dark brown sugar contains roughly 6.5% molasses.


Can Brown Sugar Spoil?

The short answer to this question is “No!”

The more involved answer is “Generally not.” Brown sugar is similar to salt in that it is a preservative substance with a very lengthy shelf life. The stuff can keep for years without any loss of edibility or safety, so long as it is stored in a proper vessel. The most notable change with brown sugar that has been exposed to the air for too long is that it becomes hard an difficult to use. Fortunately, hardened brown sugar can be reverted back to perfectly manageable brown sugar with a simple trick, which will be covered later on in this article.


So How Do You Properly Store Brown Sugar?

Properly storing your brown sugar will depend on the state of your kitchen. You want to store it somewhere that is cool and dry, such as a cupboard, pantry or cabinet. Furthermore, you need to keep it in a place that will be far away from heat sources like a heater or an oven.

Once you start using your brown sugar, you should move it to an airtight container to keep the molasses from evaporating and causing it to harden. Brown sugar is fine if left in a bag that has been unopened or otherwise sealed.

Beyond the matter of where you store your brown sugar is the matter of what your store your brown sugar in. The key to good brown sugar is an airtight container; air (and the natural moisture found in said air) are the enemies of proper brown sugar. You want to store your brown sugar into the smallest vessel you can so as to minimize the potential area for air to permeate between the sugar and the vessel’s lid. If you have realized that you do not own any airtight containers of sufficient smallness, your best bet is to use a resealable plastic big. Just remember to squeeze out each and every air molecule before sealing the bag of sugar.


On Reviving Brown Sugar

As we previously mentioned, hardened brown sugar is not necessarily useless and the problem can be reversed. Brown sugar hardens and clumps up if improperly stored; air and moisture can seep into the container and change normal brown sugar into the hard and difficult-to-manage stuff you may be familiar with. Even if you cannot perform any of the revival techniques below, know that you can use hardened brown sugar-it is just going to be irritating.

Method #1

  • Place one wedge of a sliced apple into whatever container you keep your brown sugar and keep it in there over night. The apple will counteract any moisture within the container, softening up the brown sugar back to its natural state. If your brown sugar is not too hard and lumpy, this method will work in only a few hours. If you do not happen to have apples on hand, you may wish to substitute something else known to draw in moisture, like marshmallows. You may also want to toss your brown sugar into a resealable plastic bag, add the moisture-sucking component and zip the whole mess up for the amount of time covered above.

Method #2

  • Microwave the brown sugar within a microwave-safe vessel, covered with a paper towel, on “low” to “medium-high” power for 1 to 2 minutes. This will break up the hardened sugar, softening it and making it more manageable. Finish the job by using either a fork or spoon to crush it back into how brown sugar is supposed to look.

Method #3

  • If your brown sugar has clumped together but has not hardened much, you can simply pound it to break it up. The clumps can be pounded more, similar to the last step in Method #2, to bring your brown sugar back to normal.

Method #4

  • If you have already broken up your hardened sugar into pieces of a manageable size, you can toss it into your blender or food processor to “finish the job.”

Discerning When Brown Sugar Has Gone Bad

As we have previously established, brown sugar can only go bad if improperly kept. If you notice any of the symptoms indicated below, know that they indicate that the brown sugar has become contaminated or spoiled, thus making it unsafe to eat.

  • Insect carcasses. Getting rid of the bugs will not fix the problem. Note that these will be tiny bug parts and you may not have any way of telling if some of the pieces decayed into the sugar over time.
  • Live insects. If dead bugs are a definite no-no, then live bugs are just as disgusting to discover in brown sugar.
  • It smells bad. Brown sugar has a distinctly sweet, pleasant smell. If your brown sugar smells less than pleasant, toss it even if you cannot figure out the cause of the bad smell.

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