Does Brown Sugar Go Bad?

Old bags of brown sugar have a unique way of hiding from anyone in a kitchen cupboard.

You’re sure you finished the bag a long time ago, organize the cupboard, and you stumble upon this half-opened container of brown sugar. The first question that you ask yourself after finding one is: does brown sugar go bad?

We all know that sugar generally lasts a very long time, but not everyone knows exactly how long “a very long time” is. Plus, brown sugar tends to clump after you store it for a long time, and for many people, it’s not obvious if hardened brown sugar is safe for consumption.

If you’d like to know the answers to all these questions and a few more, read on.

Brown sugar in a white bowl
Brown sugar in a white bowl

How To Store Brown Sugar

You should store brown sugar similarly to white sugar. That means you should keep in a dry, cool place. A cupboard in the pantry is perfect, but a kitchen cabinet works well too.

Make sure it stays away from any sources of heat like ovens or heaters. Keeping it in a dry place is especially important, as sugar easily absorbs water from its environment. And you know what happens when water gets to sugar.

As long as the package is unopened, you can store brown sugar in its original packaging. Once you open the container, make sure the sugar is tightly sealed.

You can achieve that by using airtight containers or by covering the package with a plastic bag. Or you can buy one of those beautiful sugar containers if you’d like to put it on display. Just make sure it’s sealed well when stored.

A good seal also prevents any bugs and strong odors from getting into the sugar. Of course, you generally don’t want to store the sugar near any strong smells, but an additional layer of protection always helps.

Preparing coffee with brown sugar
(credit:Annie Spratt)

If your brown sugar tends to harden if you store it for a long time, consider buying a brown sugar saver.

Generally, over time brown sugar dries out and starts to harden and form clumps because of lack of moisture. A sugar saver is a gadget that helps you keep the moisture content of sugar at the correct level and therefore prevent it from clumping. You need to soak it before you put it into the container and resoak it every time it dries out.

Of course, if your brown sugar has hardened, there are ways of dealing with that too.

Adding a spoonful of brown sugar into a cup of coffee
Adding a spoonful of brown sugar into a cup of coffee

How To Soften Hard Brown Sugar?

As I already mentioned, brown sugar tends to dry out and form clumps. Hardened brown sugar isn’t spoiled by any means, but it’s much more difficult to use when baking. Fortunately, there are 2 ways of softening clumped brown sugar. The first is to manually loosen it, and you can do it in many ways:

  • break it with a fork
  • put it into a bag and pound against a wall or counter
  • use an electric mixer or a blender

The second one is to provide a new source of moisture for the molasses that’s in brown sugar. Here are some of the options:

  • put an apple wedge into the container, seal it and keep it that way for a couple of hours
  • put a slice of bread into the container
  • add orange peel into the container overnight
  • cover the sugar with a slightly damp paper towel and microwave it for 30 seconds or so (choose low or medium setting)
Pile of brown sugar
(credit: John Cutting)

How Long Does Brown Sugar Last

Brown sugar lasts pretty much indefinitely. As long as any insects or water get into the container, you can store it for years.

Sometimes brown sugar comes with a “best within two years” on the label, but that means exactly what it says. If you store brown sugar for years at a time, it might not be all that great, but the taste difference will be minimal at best.

Brown sugar (unopened or opened)Stays fine indefinitely
Brown sugar

How To Tell If Brown Sugar Is Bad

If you haven’t kept brown sugar tightly sealed, some insects might have gotten into the package. Throw the sugar out if there are any bugs in the container.

If you notice any signs of mold or any other type of organic growth, that means water got into the package, and it’s done for.

If everything seems to be okay with the sugar, it’s most likely perfectly safe to use.