Does Sugar Go Bad?

You have found a bag of sugar sitting in the cupboard for who knows how long and aren’t sugar if it’s still usable. The first question that comes to mind is: does sugar go bad?

You know that white sugar is supposed to last a long time, but you would like to double-check just to make sure. If that’s the case, you’re in the right place. And to answer your question: sugar doesn’t really spoil. If you store it correctly, it will easily last decades.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about storage, shelf life, and how to tell if sugar is bad, read on.

Sugar cubes
(credit: uwehermann)

How To Store Sugar

You should store granulated sugar the same way you store brown sugar, powdered sugar, or xylitol. That means you should keep it in a cool and dry place, away from any sources of heat.

Before you open the package, make sure you always store it away from any moisture. Sugar usually comes in a paper packaging that doesn’t really provide any protection from water, so you must take care of that on your own.

Once you open the package, the safest way is to transfer the sugar into an airtight container or one of those fancy sugar containers meant to put on display. A container has the added benefit of protecting the sugar from any odors and bugs.

Of course, leaving white sugar in its original packaging is okay too. Just make sure water can’t reach it and there aren’t any strong smells nearby.

How Long Does Sugar Last

Sugar, similarly to honey, lasts pretty much indefinitely. While the label might include a best-by date, sugar doesn’t really go bad unless water gets to it.

That means that your package of granulated sugar sitting in the cabinet for how knows how long is most likely perfectly fine.

Tip

If there are some small clumps in the sugar, you can break them apart with a fork. For larger ones or lots of small ones, bring out the big guns such as an electric mixer, or a blender.

 Pantry
Sugar (unopened or opened)Stays fine indefinitely
Sugar cubes on red background
(credit: Mae Mu)

How To Tell If Sugar Is Bad?

As I already mentioned, sugar doesn’t go bad. Here’s a short and a bit simplified explanation of why.

Sugar is a hygroscopic substance, which means it attracts water molecules. When any bacteria lands on top of sugar, the water from the bacteria is transferred to sugar via the process called osmosis.

Osmosis moves the water from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration. And since there’s pretty much no water in sugar, almost all of the water in the bacteria gets transferred to sugar, and the bacteria dies of dehydration. In other words, sugar is not a good environment for bacteria to multiply, or even live.

Yeah, there might be some dead bacteria in your sweet tea, and that’s perfectly normal.

Let’s discuss when you should get rid of the sugar. First, sugar attracts insects and bugs. They often find their way into the package and die there. Because of that, if you find any bugs in the sugar, dead or alive, get rid of it.

The second situation is when you can see any signs of mold or any other organic growth inside the container. The presence of mold indicates that water got into the package. If that’s the case, discard the sugar.

Last but not least, let’s talk about smell. If you notice that your sugar smells off, in most cases, it’s because it caught the odor from another food. If that’s the case, feel free to throw it out for quality purposes. Chances are the sugar is perfectly fine, but if it smells bad, some of that smell might transfer to whatever dish you’re using the sugar for.