How To Keep Sugar Fresh

A wooden bowl of sugar along with sugar cubes.

You’ve found a brand new cookie recipe that you want to try, and you just happen to have all the ingredients on hand. You gather everything and get ready to start baking. You can already taste those cookies, and you know they’re going to be the best thing you’ve ever made.

You go to fill your measuring cup with sugar and out slides a rock. The rock used to be sugar. Now you’re craving cookies and wondering just what is going on in your pantry.

If you’ve opened your sugar and found that it is hard and lumpy, you might be worried that it is now unusable. If you are new to baking, you may have some questions. Can you salvage your sugar? Does sugar go bad? Why is this happening? What can you do to prevent it?

Let’s talk, sugar! We’ll discuss what causes your sugar to clump, ways you can keep your sugar fresh, and what to do with the sugar boulder you found. Some of these tips may sound familiar, many of them have been passed down for years because they work! With these tips and tricks, you won’t have to worry about clumpy sugar ruining your baking mood again!

Does Clumping Mean Sugar is Going Bad?

The good news is granulated sugar does not spoil. The suggested shelf life is two years, but the reality is that sugar lasts indefinitely. If sugar doesn’t go bad, why is it forming hard clumps?

To figure out why your sugar keeps hardening-up on you, you need to know the differences between brown sugar, powdered sugar, and white sugar. These differences affect the way you will need to store them, and the reasons they clump up.

Brown sugar has molasses added to it, which is why it has a different taste and texture than white sugar. Brown sugar should feel very slightly moist, almost like damp sand. When the moisture evaporates from the sugar, this causes it to harden. Hardened brown sugar can feel almost like a brick and seem impossible to break apart.

Powdered sugar, or confectioners sugar, is white sugar that has been ground until it is a powdery texture. An anti-caking agent, like cornstarch, is usually added to it to keep it from forming clumps. Despite this anti-caking agent, powdered sugar that is not stored in an airtight container will absorb moisture. This moisture will cause your sugar to form hard, unappealing lumps.

White or granulated sugar, the starting point for both brown and white sugar, is tiny sweet crystals. Like powdered sugar, if white sugar has too much exposure to the air, it will absorb the moisture, making it clump together.

How Can I Salvage My Sugar?

A close look at granulated white sugar on a wooden spoon.

So you have clumped up sugar, and a craving for cookies. What, if anything, can you do to make your sugar usable? Rest easy. Your sugar can be saved. There are a number of methods that will return your sugar to normal.

How to Declump Brown Sugar

If you aren’t in a rush, you can take the slow and easy route to unclump your brown sugar. Place it in a container and add a slice of bread or a few apple slices. The sugar will absorb the moisture from the bread or the fruit, causing it to go back to its regular consistency. This process should take about two days.

If you need that sugar right now, you can use the microwave method. Put the sugar in a glass bowl with a damp paper towel, and cover it. Microwave the bowl of sugar in 10-second intervals. Occasionally remove the cover to break up the clumps.

How To Declump Powdered Sugar

Getting the clumps out of powdered sugar is incredibly easy. Simply place your sugar in a flour sifter, and turn the crank. The one problem with powdered sugar is that you will never be able to get it to a perfectly powdery consistency again. The anti-clumping agents keep it from becoming perfectly lump-free.

If your powdered sugar has become clumpy beyond hope, it’s easy to make your own. Simply place granulated sugar in a food processor and process it until it becomes a powder.

How to Declump White/Granulated Sugar

It seems counterintuitive since white sugar hardens when exposed to moisture, but you can revive your sugar by placing a damp paper towel in it and leaving it overnight. The next morning the clumps should be soft enough for you to easily break them apart.

Place a few apple slices in the sugar container overnight. This will help the clumps soften, and you should be able to break them apart with a fork.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees. Place the sugar in an oven-safe container and pop it into the oven for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove it from the oven and check the texture with a spoon.

If it is starting to crumble easily, turn off the oven and place the sugar back in for about 1 hour. This will dry out the sugar and help it return to its original state. Keep the temperature in your oven below 200 degrees, or you will end up with a scorched and melted mess.

If you feel like you might need to work out some aggression, you can use a meat tenderizer to pound your sugar back into shape. Place the sugar in a plastic bag, you may want to use several in case the bag tears. Use the flat side of the meat tenderizer to break up the clumps.

Place the sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and mist it with water. Heat it for about 5 minutes, and use a fork to break through the softened clumps.

If you have a coffee grinder on hand, you can gently run your sugar through the grinder to return it to normal.

With any of the methods that require heat, keep a close eye on the sugar. If you heat it too long or allow it to get too hot, it will melt. That is why for the microwave methods of removing lumps it is suggested that you heat it in intervals and check it regularly. When wetting white sugar to loosen the clumps, taking a less is more approach to adding water.

Curious how well these methods actually work? Several of these were tested by

Keeping Your Sugar Fresh

A sack of brown sugar and a sack of white sugar.

Keeping your sugar fresh is easier than trying to take it back to normal after the fact. There are many tried and true ways to keep your sugar fresh and ready to use. These methods are simple, and most of them use things you probably have around your kitchen already.

  • The most important part of keeping sugar fresh is to pay attention to your storage methods. Airtight storage containers are your best option. Keeping sugar fresh means you need to keep air from getting to it. Airtight canisters are the best way to keep your granulated and powdered sugar fresh. You can purchase airtight canisters like these online. This won’t just keep your sugar from clumping, it helps keep your kitchen organized and picture-perfect.
  • Freezer bags also make great sugar storage. If you are pressed for space or use baskets to store your baking supplies, you can transfer your sugar to a freezer bag for storage. Be sure to squeeze out all the air before closing the bag and storing your sugar. Storing brown sugar this way is very effective in keeping your brown sugar moist and pliable.
  • Store your sugar with a slice of bread. Adding the bread to your sugar container will help keep moisture from getting to your white sugar, and keep your brown sugar from drying out. Don’t forget to swap out your bread slices every few days. If you leave bread in your sugar container for too long it could mold.
  • Add marshmallows! Recommended for keeping brown sugar from drying out, just place your brown sugar in a freezer bag and toss in a few large marshmallows. This works to keep brown sugar from hardening because the sugar draws moisture from the marshmallows.
  • Terra Cotta Brown Sugar Savers. These are little pottery disks that you soak in water and then throw in with your brown sugar to keep it fresh. The sugar will absorb the moisture from the disk, keeping it moist. The best part of the brown sugar savers isn’t just the ease of use, it’s the range of adorable designs you can get them in.
  • Throw a few saltines in the bottom of your white sugar container. The saltines will draw in the moisture that causes white sugar to clump.
  • A tea bag or cheesecloth full of white rice can help keep your sugar fresh. Place a tea bag in your sugar container, and change it out every few months. The rice will absorb any moisture that seeps into the container. You can purchase refillable cheesecloths like these online.
  • Store your sugar away from the stove. The heat and moisture generated from cooking will cause the conditions that make your sugar clump. Prevent this by keeping your sugar out of your cooking zone unless you are using it.
  • Do not store sugar in the refrigerator. It is recommended you store your sugar in a cool dry place, but the low temperatures in a refrigerator can encourage clumping. A pantry or a cabinet away from the stove are the best places to store sugar.

There you have it! It is easy to keep your sugar fresh if you use the appropriate storage containers and try to maintain the right conditions. Throwing a slice of bread or saltines in the container is easy, and only takes a few seconds. Keeping sugar fresh is an easy task since it has such a long shelf-life.

Accidents do happen, and it’s certainly annoying to open your sugar only to find large clumps, or that the entire bag has hardened. Now you know there is no reason to let that stop you from using it. There is no need to throw out your sugar if it clumps since you can easily restore it. Use one of these tricks and you will be baking in no time.

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