Learn how to store your brown sugar properly so it stays fresh longer. Plus, learn how to soften it in the event something does go wrong.

By Lauren Wellbank
August 26, 2020
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Brown sugar can be used in everything from cookies to sauces. The ingredient adds a delightful hint of sweetness and molasses flavor to any dish you use it in, but if you've ever reached for a package of brown sugar after it's been open only to realize that it's now hardened into one solid lump, you know how frustrating it can be to try and cook with it again. The hardened confection can become difficult to measure, and, at times, may even seem like it has gone bad. Fortunately, getting your brown sugar back into its former scoop-able form is easy with these chef-approved tips.   

Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar
Credit: Quanthem/Getty Images

Why does brown sugar harden?

The reason why brown sugar hardens often has a lot to do with science and how you store it. "Brown sugar is white granulated sugar that is coated with ​molasses," explains chef Albertho Appolon. "This is why brown sugar hardens together once it has been exposed to air, because the molasses coating evaporates over time, and the sugar granules stick back together." So, once the moisture from the molasses begins to evaporate, your brown sugar will begin to harden.

How to soften brown sugar that's gone hard.

The good news is that unless your brown sugar has obviously gone bad, you should be able to get it soft again. According to Kim Vickers, head baker at Dough, the fastest way to get your sugar back to its former scoop-able softness is to microwave it. She suggests putting it into a microwave-safe bowl, draping it with a napkin, and then heating it up at 20-second intervals until it's soft again. If you have more time, Jason Fullilove, chef consultant and caterer, suggests breaking out the bread. "If you put a slice of bread in with your brown sugar in an airtight container for a day or two the brown sugar will soften up again," he says. "Just discard the bread [afterward]." Of course, the best way to keep your sugar soft is to store it properly in the first place.

How to keep it softer, longer.

To keep that moisture evaporation at bay, you should store your brown sugar in the most air-tight container possible. "The container doesn't have to be special, as long as it has a lid to stop air from getting to the sugar," Appolon explains, adding that if you're not going to need your brown sugar again for a few weeks, you can store it in the freezer. "It can stay frozen for as long as you need, and it only takes two to three hours to defrost."

How can you tell if your brown sugar has gone bad?

Although brown sugar has a long lifespan, Vickers says that it can still go bad. "If you find bugs or other contaminants in your sugar, it should be disposed of immediately," she says. Otherwise, the fact that your brown sugar has hardened over time isn't necessarily a sign that it's gone bad

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