If you do not store brown sugar correctly, it is very prone to hardening. When it reaches this point, it is hard to use and becomes an inconvenience. It can be hard to get the sugar out of the packaging without making a mess, and you cannot seal it to keep the air out.
Brown sugar is commonly used in baking and desserts. It caramelizes much faster than white sugar and can also be used to brown gravies and glazes for savory dishes.
You can create the same effect by combining 1 tablespoon of molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. If you need a sugar lighter than this, use less molasses. If you need a darker sugar, use more.
We have rounded up our top tips for storing brown sugar to keep it soft and delicious, while easy to use with no mess involved.
Why does brown sugar turn hard?
Brown sugar is similar to white sugar but it has some residual molasses contained within it. This is what gives the sugar its brown hue. The molasses content also softens the sugar and allows it to be malleable.
Molasses will evaporate as it is exposed to air, and this is the cause of the sugar hardening. As the molasses evaporates, the film between the sugar granules will dry out and they will stick together.
How do you store brown sugar?
If you have not yet opened your package of brown sugar, it is perfectly fine to store in the cupboard as it is. The container it is sold in will be airtight and protect the sugar from solidifying. This will also prevent any contaminants making their way into the sugar.
The first step to storing brown sugar is to transfer it out of the original packaging. Place it into an airtight container, such as a Tupperware. This will help to seal in some of the moisture, keeping the sugar soft.
Try to store it in a container with little space left at the top so that the sugar comes into contact with as little air as possible.
This next suggestion is going to sound strange, but place a marshmallow inside the container. This contains a lot of moisture which will help to keep the sugar soft. A single slice of white bread, a few apple wedges, or a terracotta brown sugar saver will also do the job.
The terracotta stone needs to be soaked in water before use. This will absorb the water and release this moisture gently back into the sugar over time.
If you are using the apple or bread methods, you will need to switch out and replace them every few days. If you do not do this, they will become moldy and can cause your sugar to go off too.
Do not store brown sugar in the refrigerator or freezer. This will cause it to harden faster and become even more difficult to use. If you do want to freeze it to extend the shelf life, you will need to allow it to thaw before using.
Use a fork to split up all of the clumps, and ensure you stir it regularly to reduce the amount of ice crystals that form.
You should store the sugar away from spices and strongly scented foods. This is because sugar can take on scents from things in close proximity to it.
How to soften brown sugar that has hardened
An easy way to soften solidified brown sugar is by placing it into an oven-safe container. Place this in an oven preheated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and leave it until it has softened. This is a very effective way to soften sugar but when it cools it will re-solidify.
You can also place the brown sugar in a bowl covered with 2 sheets of damp paper towels. You should then wrap this tightly in plastic wrap. Place this bowl in the microwave and blast it for a minute. Stir well and repeat as necessary, checking after every 20 second blast.
You can also throw your solid block of sugar into a blender or food processor. This will break up the larger chunks into small particles meaning they are easy to use. Using a fork or electric whisk will serve the same purpose.
Another way to soften brown sugar is to add a few drops of water to the sugar inside the container. Wait a few days, and the sugar will be soft and ready to use.
You can throw in one of the terracotta sugar savers if your sugar has already hardened. If it is a solid block, be aware that it could take up to 8 hours for the sugar to become usable again.
You can also add a damp cloth or paper towel to your container of sugar. Wring out as much moisture as possible and lay it on top of the sugar. Leave it to sit overnight and your sugar should be soft and ready to use.
Another spin on this method is to place a layer of aluminum foil on top of the sugar. Place some damp paper towels on top of this and seal the container. You should allow it to sit until the paper towel has dried out. This can be as fast as a few hours or could take a few days.
How can you tell if brown sugar has gone off?
Brown sugar has a long shelf life and it is rare for it to go off. However, if you notice mold growing anywhere in the container we recommend disposing of the entire container. This is likely due to an excessive amount of moisture in the sugar container.
If you find any small mites or bugs (dead or alive) inside the sugar this is a clear sign it needs to be thrown in the trash. If you notice any other foreign bodies or contaminants in the sugar, replace it instead of using it. These could include larvae or eggs from any insects living inside the container.