Does Powdered Sugar Go Bad?

Unless you love baking, you use powdered sugar only from time to time. And that means every once in a while you stumble upon a half-opened container of powdered sugar that you didn’t even know existed. That’s okay, we’ve all been there. Once you first notice that container hidden in the corner of the cupboard, the question “does powdered sugar go bad?” pops up immediately.

Fortunately for you and every other occasional baker, powdered sugar doesn’t really go bad. If stored properly, it lasts years, so even if you bought yours a few years ago, it should still be perfectly fine. If you’d like to learn more about storage, shelf life, and spoilage of powdered sugar, read along.

Powdered-sugar raised donuts
(credit: Salim Virji)

How To Store Powdered Sugar

You should store powdered sugar (also known as confectioners’ sugar) just like you store brown sugar. That means you should keep in a cool and dry area. The pantry or a kitchen cabinet are equally good choices. As long as it stays unopened, the packaging it came is sufficient for storage. Once you open the package, it needs to be sealed tightly, so any moisture or bugs can’t get inside. If the packaging the sugar came in can be sealed properly, feel free to leave the sugar in it. If not, I suggest transferring the sugar into an airtight container. You can even buy a decorative container and put it somewhere on display if you like. Anything, as long as the sugar stays in a sealed environment, away from moisture and sources of heat. Last but not least, keep the sugar away from any strong odors. Of course, the tight seal should prevent any smells from being picked up by the sugar, but better safe than sorry.

How Long Does Powdered Sugar Last

As mentioned earlier, if stored properly, powdered sugar stays fine indefinitely. Many manufacturers add a date on the label or suggest using it within a year or two to get the best quality, but it’s not like the quality will be much worse after another 3 or 5 years. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Powdered sugar is basically very finely ground granulated sugar and an anti-caking agent to keep it in a powdered consistency. In most cases that anti-caking agent is corn starch. With time, powdered sugar often forms small clumps. Different brands use varying amounts of corn starch, so how long will it take before your confectioners’ sugar starts forming clumps depends on the brand you chose. The easiest way to get rid of the clumps is to sift the sugar through a fine mesh strainer before dusting a dessert with it. Those clumps, as long as they are relatively small, aren’t anything to worry about.

Granulated sugar (unopened or opened) Stays fine indefinitely

Does Powdered Sugar Go Bad?

As I already mentioned, powdered sugar doesn’t go bad unless water gets into the package. If only a small amount of water got into the container, there would be a few small clumps that you don’t need to worry about. If more water finds its way to the powder, there will be mold or some other sort of organic growth. When that happens, you should get rid of the sugar. Same thing if any insects got to it.

If you want to use powdered sugar that was sitting in the cabinet for a long time, give it a taste before you add it to icing or frosting. It happens very rarely, but sometimes old powdered sugar can taste stale. And if it does, adding it in baking will ruin the whole thing, so it’s better to give it a quick exam before using. If your powdered sugar tastes bad, throw it out and open a new package. If you don’t have a spare package and desperately need powdered sugar, you can make it yourself. Take regular sugar and process it using a coffee grinder or mortar and a pestle. It will be so much better than the stale one.

One more thing to remember is that powdered sugar is not a direct substitute for granulated sugar. If the recipe calls for regular sugar, substituting it with confectioners’ often won’t get the same results.