How Long Does Brown Sugar Last? Can Brown Sugar Go Bad?
Caramel-colored, molasses sweet and versatile, brown sugar is a staple of many kitchen cupboards and considered to be a slightly healthier alternative to white sugar. And as a long-lasting cooking ingredient, it is pretty robust. So, what is the shelf-life of this popular sweet stuff and does brown sugar go bad?
We dip our stirring spoon into the discussion to cook up the right answer to the question – how long does brown sugar last?
What is Brown Sugar?
Both white and brown sugar are sourced from the same crops, which is either sugarcane or sugar beet, but it is how they are processed that makes the difference. Brown sugar is actually white sugar but left more unrefined to retain its natural molasses or is mixed with the sugar syrup after processing. It is the molasses which gives brown sugar its warm, caramel color and also helps to slightly increase its calcium, iron and potassium content, compared to the white stuff. Yet, while it also has slightly fewer calories than white sugar, brown sugar is still a high sugar and energy product, with 15 calories per teaspoon, compared to 16.3 calories for white.
Brown sugar is a wonderful ingredient for cooking as it has a rich, sweet taste and gives a lovely caramel color to cakes and bakes. It also works well in sweet sauces and as a glaze for savory dishes.
How Long is its Shelf-life?
The simple answer to ‘does brown sugar expire?’ is that brown sugar should never really go bad if stored properly but it will slowly lose flavor and become a little harder over time. The best quality lifespan of brown sugar is around two years so this is the widely accepted brown sugar shelf-life but, if looked after, it can be used well after that time has expired. But we would say a well-stored bag of brown sugar that has been sitting at the back of your cupboard for more than five years is probably not going to taste the best, although it shouldn’t do you any harm. If you are a regular baker or like to have a bag of the brown sweet stuff just in case, then it’s advisable to work out how much you will need over a 24-month period and buy that quantity, if only to avoid any food waste.
How to Tell if Your Brown Sugar Has Gone Bad
As with all the food stuff in your kitchen, brown sugar can quickly go past its best if not stored correctly and the most obvious way to tell if your sugar has ‘gone bad’ is if it has hardened into clumps inside its jar or packet. The reason for this large sugar lump is moisture – or lack of – if air is allowed in due to poor or ineffective storage and evaporates the natural dampness in the granules. The dried out brown sugar will then clump together and create a hardened product. But this doesn’t mean hardened sugar is unusable – with a little know-how you can still bring your brown sugar back from the brink.
Best Ways to Store Brown Sugar
When it comes to maintaining the freshness and quality of brown sugar, prevention really is better than cure. Get the storage of your brown sugar right and you can be sure of its goodness, right to the end of the packet. Here are our top tips to keeping your brown sugar sweet and happy:
- Storing brown sugar in its unopened and original packaging is the best way to prolong its shelf-life. Opt for a re-sealable packet if you can or securely tape down the opening once you start using your sugar to prevent moisture evaporating.
- Once opened, you can transfer the brown sugar to an airtight container to retain the natural moisture which keeps the granules loose and fresh.
- However, you re-package your brown sugar, always store the sealed container in a dry, cool place such as a pantry or kitchen cabinet, away from any heat. Damp external conditions can also compromise your sugar if it gets inside the packaging, as can strong odors.
- You can also invest in a gadget called a sugar saver, which are usually ceramic disks you pre-soak then dry off before adding to the sugar inside its container to help keep the sugar nice and soft.
- An alternative to a sugar saver is a marshmallow – yes, a marshmallow! Pop a few pieces of marshmallow onto the top of the brown sugar before you seal the container and the moisture in the candy will help to prevent the sugar from drying out. A slice of apple or bread can also work.
Related Post: Food Storage Containers
How to Restore Brown Sugar
Despite your best efforts, you discover your stored brown sugar has gone hard – what can you do? Well, just because the texture of the sugar has changed, it doesn’t mean it has gone bad or is now unusable as there is some sugar-saving you can do. To restore your hardened brown sugar, you need to carefully add back some of its moisture. Here’s a few ways to do just that:
- If the brown sugar block is not too hard, the easiest way is to either break it up with a fork, put it in a plastic food bag and pound with a rolling pin or whizz it through an electric mixer or food blender.
- Add in a slice of fresh bread (wrapped in a damp paper towel and then some plastic wrap) to the sugar and leave for a couple of days. You could also use a piece of washed and dried orange peel and let the peel’s natural oils do its dampening work.
- Place the hardened sugar into a bowl and cover with a damp paper towel and pop into the microwave oven. Heat for around 20 seconds then check the sugar – it should have become granule-like and soft. Just a word of caution, don’t microwave blast the sugar for much longer as even a few more seconds can take the sugar to far and you could find it too moist and syrupy.
When to Consign it to the Trash Can
Sometimes that packet of hardened brown sugar can be beyond saving, especially if it has signs of contamination. A poorly sealed or stored packet of brown sugar can have a few unwanted visitors making it their home, including insects and ants who will be drawn to the deliciously sweet food stuff. And a sure sign water has entered your brown sugar container is sugar mold or other types of organic growth.
If your sugar remains in hard clumps or has signs of contamination or infestation, it’s time to put it out of its misery and consign it to the trash can. Then get yourself down to the grocery store for a fresh supply so you can bake up a delicious cake to treat your family or friends!