Does Brown Sugar Go Bad? Here’s What We Found!

Chris Starks
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Brown sugar and its long shelf-life

How long does brown sugar last? It all depends on how you use it, the brand you buy, and how you store it. It can keep for several months past the printed “sell-by” date on the package, provided you freeze it first.

There is nothing in the ingredients that is prone to spoilage or going bad in any way. But brown sugar does absorb moisture from the air and it will become a rock-solid lump if left out for too long, so unless you’re going to use it fairly quickly, keep it in an airtight container.

It’s better to have too much brown sugar than not enough. When you open it, break off what you need and put the rest back in the container to avoid over-handling.

You should not put it in the refrigerator or the microwave. If you want to put it in another container, be sure the container is totally airtight. The more air it gets exposed to, the quicker it’ll spoil.

Convenient and easy brown sugar storage ideas

1 Pre-weigh little bags of brown sugar.

2 Place the bags into a Ziplock and use a Sharpie to write the date on the Ziplock.

3 Insert the whole thing into a gallon jar, such as a baby food jar.

The dates you list on the Ziplock bags can be used to determine when the bag was opened. So if you buy several brown sugar bags at a time, and you want to use all of one type before moving on to the next one, you can note that on a sticky note, so you know to use that bag first. Or, you can assign them a number.

Using the little bags helps eliminate having to seal bags completely shut. I know I’ve wasted way too much time wrestling with a bag to get the sealer to seal it.

The storage space should be cool and dry

Brown sugar is best stored in an airtight container to maintain its moisture and flavor. An airtight container is a must since brown sugar has the tendency to absorb moisture from the surrounding air.

If your brown sugar moisture content becomes too high, it can either form rock-hard lumps or become crumbly and soggy. Brown sugar has a shelf life of about one year. Storing it at room temperature is fine, but the more moisture the better. Store it in the pantry or somewhere else that’s close to room temperature.

Use insulated containers or sealed bags

To prevent moisture from seeping in and keep the sugar away from contaminating agents like odors, dust, mildew, mold, etc. However, there are home methods that can supposedly extend the shelf life of brown sugar.

  • One method is to store the brown sugar in the freezer.
  • Another method is to store the brown sugar in a sealed container with whole, uncrushed vanilla beans.

These methods are not supported by scientific proof, and there has been no consensus on whether it works. The storage life of brown sugar will greatly depend on the food condition. Given that each batch of brown sugar is different, there is no definite answer on whether brown sugar will go bad or not. But brown sugar will eventually spoil and go bad.

A brown sugar goo test will help you determine if your batch is still in good condition.

Hard brown sugar is not bad!

Brown sugar will never go bad as long as the moisture content is less than 3%.

Sugar preserved by being packed in a sugar plantation warehouse is brown in color.

Brown sugar may loose its graininess and become soft, hard and lumpy but it is not spoiled.

I actually used brown sugar over the holidays and it was fine, though it did lose its graininess.

Take the sugar out beforehand

When you are making a dessert recipe that calls for brown sugar, it's okay to leave it out for a while. As long as the sugar is protected from moisture and heat, brown sugar won't spoil.

However, if a recipe includes hard-to-find ingredients, like brown sugar, you may want to measure the sugar into a separate bowl before beginning the recipe. That way, if you don’t have enough time to finish the preparation or have to stop in the middle of the process in order to go run other errands, you'll have a fresh batch of brown sugar on hand.

Use Fork or Electric mixer

We know from experience that brown sugar can make anything taste great. From brownies, to cookies, cakes, the most important thing is getting the perfect consistency, otherwise your creation can come out soggy, burnt, or taste rubbery.

To achieve a balance of moist and gooey in your baked goods, you want to fine tune the temperature of the brown sugar. Adjusting the temperature can also affect the airy, crispiness of the ingredients, which may reduce the likelihood of rubbery tasting.

So if you’re baking, you can use an electric mixer set to low speed in a stand mixer or a spoon and fork to keep stirring until the brown sugar dissolves.

Smashing with the bag

For the best bang for your buck, smash your white granulated sugar with the sugar bag. This process will loosen any sugar clumps that may exist and it will result in a nice even texture. Plus it will give you a free bag to use in your next batch of molasses cookies.

Use an apple wedge

Nothing spoils the taste of fresh sugar cane like the harsh bite of mold! So how do you know if a brown sugar box has gone bad before you purchase it or when you open the package? Simply take a green apple wedge, remove the stem, and run it through the sugar.

The sugar is good to go if the apple smells and tastes like sugar, and the apple wedge is clean. If the apple smells like mold, or if any mold touches the apple, the sugar is moldy and you should not purchase it.

This trick saves you the hassle of spooning out the sugar to check for mold and gives you peace of mind before you put it in a cake, brownie, or pancake mix. You can use this trick to check the brown sugar you already have in your pantry to make sure it’s still good.

Microwave for few minutes

So what would be the shelf life of brown sugar? I did some research and it seems like sugar is not only a preservative but also a hygroscopic. It will absorb all the moisture in the air.

As stated in the link, brown sugar can last up to 10 years when sealed and stored in a dry and dark place. So the best way to store brown sugar is in an airtight container, in an area where it can’t be exposed to moisture or humid conditions.

A sure way to ruin your brown sugar is to microwave it.

You may think that if you dry out your brown sugar, you will make sure you will not get the lumpy sugar. This would be the safest way to store your brown sugar but it is not a permanent cure. It would only delay the molasses from flowing back into your sugar.

When to get concerned?

So when is it time to stop using your brown sugar? We read a few different formulations of when to worry about mold in brown sugar from sources like the FDA, the USDA, and several other food safety sites. The threshold for mold in brown sugar seemed to be about two percent. If there was mold, they said to toss the offending brown sugar.

It was no surprise to us that the FDA, USDA, and other government standards were quite conservative.

It’s not like they are going to give a passing grade to moldy brown sugar that threatens the health of the public. With food, it’s better safe than sorry.

But that didn’t match what we found in the marketplace.

Our own testing found that some of the top-selling brown sugars on Amazon were virtually devoid of mold.

It’s not that they were sold as mold-free, they were sold as “Naturally Sweet” sugars with “No Additives or Preservatives” and were intentionally marketed to consumers as healthier food products.

They ranged from less than .5 percent mold to over 1 percent mold. But we didn’t do the math, we just threw out the ones that were objectionable in our minds.

What to do with leftover brown sugar?

Most of the time, when it comes to baking, brown sugar doesn’t go bad. However, if left in a hot place, brown sugar can become hardened and unusable.

While we have covered different storage methods and ways to soften hardened brown sugar, here, we will find out the shelf life of brown sugar and whether there are any other issues associated with it.

We take a look at brown sugar in terms of appearance, smell and shelf life.

Chocolate chip cookie

Dough, soft brown sugar, deliciously juicy brownies…and then it happens.

That hard, brick-like object that has taken the place of the brown sugar you just bought a few weeks ago. It seems to happen out of nowhere. You may even be tempted to throw that out-of-date bag of brown sugar out of frustration and shame. (Even though it was your favorite!) But before you do, you should take a closer look at your brown sugar. Read on to find out if it’s still good or if it’s time to say goodbye.

Gingerbread cake

Brownies, ice box cookies… These are just some of the many recipes that call for brown sugar.

If you don’t bake much, it’s likely that a small amount of brown sugar you purchased probably a while back still remains in its original packaging. With its intricate packaging and packaging color, it can be hard to tell if it’s rancid or not.

There are many factors that determine the shelf life of brown sugar. The most important factors include the water activity, pH and moisture content.

You can extend the shelf life of brown sugar by keeping it in an airtight container and storing it in a cool, dark, and dry place.

In this post, we will look deeper into the brown sugar shelf life.

Let’s get into it.

Apple pie

Is a delicious dessert sure to please the whole family. The addition of brown sugar in the recipe adds a rich, honeyed flavor and a caramel texture that is greatly missing from the typical sugar white pies we roll out on Thanksgiving. Apple pies are more often than not covered in a crumbly, buttery, shortbread-style top crust. This crust, brown sugar, and cinnamon-filled adornment launches the pie into the heavenly stratosphere.

The question today is—does brown sugar expire?

Of course, the technical answer is yes, it does expire. But the truth is that unopened packages of brown sugar will be perfectly edible for a year or two. The concern you should have, however, is whether or not you will still be able to add the crumbly, brown stuff to your apple pie recipes after the sugar’s expiration date.

This brings us to the first subject of how to store brown sugar.

Shortbread cookies

Final Verdict

Brown sugar is a highly absorptive granulated sugar that usually comes in a block form. This form is highly porous, which allows it to absorb moisture or liquid quite easily. This is the biggest reason for it going bad, which only happens when it’s exposed to humidity, heat, and moisture for a considerable period.

The moisture leads to accumulation of mold, mildew, and even cause it to go hard and lumpy if it stays for a long period of time. Some of the other problems that arise due to exposure to moisture are changes in color and flavor. In addition, you may also see it getting a whitish film on the surface of the sugar.

READ MORE: What’s The Best Way To Store Nuts And Seeds

What Causes Brown Sugar To Go Bad?

It comes in a solid block and is therefore highly porous, making it very susceptible to moisture and absorbing it quickly. This is one of the primary reasons sugar cubes also go bad.

The sugar spends a considerable time in a humid atmosphere due to the conditions in which it’s stored: if it’s kept in a jar or even in a container with a cover.

If you can keep the brown sugar free from moisture and you store it in a cool and dry place, it will easily last for four to five years.