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When most people decide to store sugar, they first think about how to remove oxygen from it. They assume that oxygen moistens it.
But that’s not necessary or wise when dealing with sugar because removing oxygen hardens it. If you do that, you’ll have a massive rock when you open the container months later. It doesn’t mean the sugar won’t be safe for consumption. No, you can use your rock-like sugar. But, you’ll need a mallet, a chisel, or a drill.
So, let’s look at how to store sugar long-term to maintain its texture, flavor, and color.
How to Tell Sugar Is Bad
It’s almost correct to say that sugar lasts forever as it can stay for years as long as the storage conditions are favorable. That’s the case for all sugar types, whether you’re storing brown, white, or powdered sugar.
Bugs and water are two contaminants that may change the quality of sugar. You let them into your sugar by using packaging that leaks or using packaging that’s dirty or humid.
How can you tell when your sugar is bad?
Check the Smell
Sugar has no smell. But, if you’ve stored it next to foodstuffs with different odors and scents, it’ll acquire them. It doesn’t mean you can’t use that sugar anymore. However, when you do, your drink or food will have all the scents in the sugar.
That’s why you may consider discarding that sugar altogether. For example, imagine having a cup of coffee with the taste of apple pie. Odors are common when you refrigerate or freeze sugar. Powdered sugar may also taste different when it’s stale.
Look for Changes in Texture
When you have to break lumps to scoop some sugar, you may want to reconsider how you store it. Sugar lumps crop up as the sugar hardens, meaning something is going on in the storage area.
Don’t discard it as it’s still of good quality. First, break the lumps to regain the natural form of the sugar, then change the storage area. Break up the large sugar lumps with a fork, then refine the particles in a food processor. We’ll discuss other methods to remove sugar lumps later.
Check for Mold
Mold can grow in powdered sugar when water seeps inside. It’s the same case with sugar stored in buckets in the basement, in moldy conditions. Since sugar is hygroscopic, it draws in water molecules from the surrounding.
Look for Bugs
If you leave your bag of sugar open, you’ll find all manner of critters inside. Insects can also live on the rim of your container or the lid. Thus, inspect the container or food-grade bucket for leaks. If there are cracks, chances are there are bugs inside. You may notice eggs inside. Such sugar is not fit for consumption, and you should discard it.
What Makes Sugar Go Bad?
When you expose granulated sugar to moisture, it gets lumps and hardens. It becomes difficult to store or use in that form.
Brown sugar also lasts a lifetime, but its texture can change as it hardens. Thus, we can say brown sugar is good for about two years before it becomes lumpy. Plus, the texture of powdered sugar changes when the storage container isn’t air-tight.
Sugar also spoils when you heat or freeze it. When you expose it to heat, it darkens. For honey, when you heat it, the flavor changes.
If, on the other hand, you freeze sugar, it crystallizes. On top of that, you expose it to odors, and since sugar has a higher surface area.
Most sugars, such as honey and granulated sugar, have an indefinite shelf life because of their antimicrobial properties. But, it’s better to use it in about two years to consume it in good quality, without lumps and other unexpected outcomes.
How you store your sugar dictates how long it’ll stay fresh. The solution is to portion it instead of taking out a whole bag of sugar that you can consume in months to a year. Here are storage tips for your portions in the pantry.
For honey and other liquid sugar types, store them in a cool place without humid conditions. Further, keep sugar away from hot or freezing temperatures to maintain its texture, flavor, and color.
These are simple, affordable ziplock bags. Sugar absorbs odors fast; therefore, don’t use plastic retail packaging for sugar you’re not using soon. Instead, store it in a polythene bag for it doesn’t block all oxygen, meaning the contents won’t get hard.
The only drawback of using these bags is that they damage easily, which may expose sugar to elements. Thus, you’d have to place these bags with sugar in a food-grade bucket.
These store sugar long-term, and you can also place them inside a food-grade bucket. With mylar bags, you’ll also be able to portion it accordingly, whether for monthly or weekly use.
Food-Grade Plastic Buckets
It’s easier to store sugar in a bucket as you can stack buckets together, so they don’t take up much of your storage space. Buckets don’t damage easily like plastic bags. Plus, you can reuse buckets for other household tasks once you empty the sugar.
Instead of pouring sugar into the bucket, package it in polythene or mylar bags, then place them inside the bucket. That’ll protect the contents if the bucket cracks.
Jars and Cans
Canning jars are more expensive, but they are better than jars not meant for food. When you fill a canning jar, leave about half an inch at the brim so you can screw it tight. Of all the storage methods, canning jars are the most appealing, and you can also stack them in your pantry like the food-grade buckets.
But, they store a small amount of sugar compared to polythene bags and food-grade buckets. You can use these to portion monthly sugar packages.
Don’t use metallic containers to store honey, as its acid can make the container rust.
How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar
What if your sugar hardens?
Granulated sugar loses its quality when exposed to humidity, but brown sugar hardens when air enters the container and makes it lose moisture. If possible, store it in the retail plastic bag as it won’t let it dry.
An alternative can be a ziplock bag, and as you close it, remove as much air as possible. Also, store brown sugar in small batches to prevent overexposure when you open the bag to get some sugar for immediate use.
If you forget one of the storage tips discussed earlier and your brown sugar hardens, one method to soften it is to:
Heat the Sugar in a Microwave
- Pour it into a microwavable bowl, cover it with wet paper towels and add a plastic wrap on top.
- Place the bowl in a microwave and let it heat for up to two minutes in intervals of about 20 seconds.
- Shake the bowl during these intervals to reveal the hardened layer underneath. You can let the bowl sit for about an hour on the kitchen counter, still covered in the damp paper towel.
- Next, uncover the bowl and fluff it with a fork while still hot to loosen the sugar ball. Use it as soon as it cools a bit.
The downside of this method is that when you heat a lot of it in a small container, there’s a chance the layer at the bottom will still be hard.
Use a Slice of Bread
Yes, bread can restore the moisture content in sugar. Use a slice of sandwich bread for every eight ounces of hardened sugar.
When you leave a slice in the container, it softens the sugar around it first. Therefore, rotate the bread slice around the container to distribute its moisture to all lumps. If your sugar is in a bowl or plastic bag, you can shake it for the bread to reach all the sugar lumps.
However, you risk having bread crumbs in your brown sugar. That’ll not happen if you let the slice sit in the bowl without shaking it. Plus, the bread won’t leave a funny flavor in your sugar.
Soak a clean piece of terracotta in water for about half an hour, wipe it and stash it in a container with brown sugar. Seal the container for about an hour, and it’ll soften all the lumps evenly.
You’ll not have some lumpy sides like in the case of the bread method, and even if you leave the terracotta in the container overnight, the sugar won’t be damp. You can even store it with this piece long-term to prevent moisture changes in the airtight container.
How Can You Soften Regular Sugar?
The solution is to restore moisture content and eliminate the lumps. Therefore:
Use a Damp Paper Towel
It’s like the steps we discussed earlier on restoring brown sugar. Place a damp paper towel on the sugar container and cover the towel with cling film. Leave the container covered overnight, and the sugar will be soft the following day.
Place an Apple in the Sugar Bowl
Cut an apple into four quarters, remove the core, and place a part of the apple in the bowl with sugar. Cover the bowl overnight and leave it in a cool place. The moisture in the apple will seep into the lumps of sugar and break them down. It’ll soften so well, making it possible to flake it off with a fork.
But, your sugar may have an apple flavor depending on how long you leave the slices in the bowl. On top of that, the apple slices will turn brown and mushy, and you’ll have to take them out before they mess up your sugar.
Bake Granulated Sugar
Let’s say you can try this when you don’t want to wait overnight for the sugar to soften. Therefore, place baking paper on a tray, pour the sugar, and bake it in an oven preheated to 200 degrees. Bake it for about 15 minutes, turn off the oven and let the sugar sit inside for about an hour. The sugar particles will go back to their original form.
How long can you store sugar?
You can store it indefinitely, and it’ll be safe to use when you need it. However, there’s still a sell-by date on your bag of sugar because that’s when the quality may begin to change. If you leave your sugar bowl uncovered, it’ll harden.
Also, if critters enter your sugar container, they’ll contaminate it. You may also have to throw away your sugar when it turns moldy. Restoring the flavor of sugar is impossible, but you can change sugar texture. It’s a process that takes about two hours to a night’s work, depending on the method chosen.
How long can you store unopened sugar?
It can last for years if the packaging doesn’t let parasites or odors and moisture into the bag. Hence, you can place the unopened bag in a sealed food-grade bucket and store it in a cool place.
How do you store sugar, so it doesn’t get hard?
When sugar loses moisture, it turns into a rock that you’ll have to regrind to use. If you freeze or refrigerate sugar, it condenses and hardens. For bulk storage, use food-grade buckets with plastic lids. It’ll retain its quality and keep insects like ants out of your sugar. We also looked at ways to soften sugar earlier.
Sugar is one of the few commodities with a long shelf life. We’re talking years to decades of the same quality. But, there’s something you have to do. You have to store it in conditions that don’t change its texture, flavor, or color.
If they do, you’ll have crystallized or hardened sugar. That means your choice of packaging and storage area matters. If you have a plastic jar with honey near a stove, it’ll crystalize. Also, if you refrigerate sugar, it’ll pick up odors from pizza, apple pies, and everything else nearby. Who wants that?