I have a bag of brown sugar that I never noticed in my cupboard, and I needed it for a cookie recipe that I decided to make today. The brown sugar has been there for about a year, and it looks really packed together. Is it safe to use?

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    Does it have an expiration date? – paparazzo Sep 20 at 23:25
  • I can't seem to find it. I've looked all over the package. – Sweet_Cherry Sep 21 at 0:30
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    Sugar (and salt) don't require expiry dates in many jurisdictions. – David Richerby Sep 21 at 10:37
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    Did you know that brown sugar is nothing but white sugar with a tiny bit of molasses added? When the water in the molasses evaporates, the sugar clumps together and gets hard. – Rob Lewis Sep 22 at 14:08
  • Sugar never expires unless you keep it wet (where yeast can potentially grow) but even then you'll only generate alcohol which depending on your point of view is not "expiring" (if left longer the alcohol may "expire" to become vinegar which will then last almost forever) – slebetman Sep 23 at 3:37
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Being packed together is typically safe to use, just inconvenient. Brown Sugar doesn't really "expire." However, it can absorb excess water if stored in a humid environment and lead to bacteria fermenting it (It would have an alcohol style smell and turn goopy) or pick up odors from its packaging or things that are nearby. For example, if it's stored in a musty basement in just a plastic bag, it can pick up a mildew type smell. If near strong smelling spices, it can pick up odors from those.

The most common issue is it just dries out though and clumps or turns hard. You can usually loosen it by just warming it up and moving it around. Try gently massaging it in the bag to use your body heat or break it in to pieces and use a microwave like moscafj suggests. Short bursts of heat and stirring often in between should do the trick.

If you want to prevent it from drying out, wrap your sugar in heavy duty foil when not in use to stop air transfer and moisture loss.

Any package date would be a "best by" date, which would indicate quality, rather than safety. Really, the only risk is that the flavor has degraded. If the sugar is hard, you can put it in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel. Cover the bowl and microwave in short bursts (10 - 15 seconds), breaking up the hard lumps with a fork in between bursts. Be careful not to melt the sugar. Then use as you wish.

  • You can achieve a similar effect if you put the butt piece of a loaf of bread in the brown sugar container overnight. The bread will be rock hard in the morning and your sugar will be nice and soft. – Brad Sep 21 at 18:16
  • Where would I put the paper towel? – Sweet_Cherry Sep 21 at 20:46
  • @Sweet_Cherry place sugar in bowl, cover with damp paper towel, cover bowl with plastic or even a kitchen towel. Use short bursts in microwave. – moscafj Sep 21 at 21:22

High sugar (and salt) concentration causes osmosis from bacteria so they loose their water and die - this is why sugar and salt are great preservatives (eg. jams, salted meat, etc.). And this effect makes sugar (until it doesn't get wet) can not deteriorate. I'm sure you can use that old brown sugar safely.

In my country (and I think in the whole EU) sugars are marked as 'Safe for infinite time'.

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    In the UK, sugar doesn't have to be marked with a "best before" or "use by" date, but I've never seen packets explicitly claiming that it's good forever. – David Richerby Sep 21 at 10:36
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    It is "good forever", but only if you apply common sense to storing it. Any labeling which implied it was indestructible would be not only pointless, but wrong. And a page of objectively correct caveats about temperature range, relative humidity, possible contaminants, etc would just be a crackpot magnet. – alephzero Sep 21 at 13:49
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    I want a refund. Turns out the sugar that I stored for five years in a nuclear reactor core wasn't good anymore, it gave me cancer! – leftaroundabout Sep 21 at 15:49
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    My UK brown sugar is apparently best before March 2020, and I probably bought it for Christmas baking last year, giving it nearly a 3 year stated life. The various white sugars I have are undated. (@DavidRicherby - Lidl's granulated does state 'natural preservative... cool, dry place... will keep indefinitely') – Chris H Sep 23 at 11:51
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    I live in Hungary and here sugars are mared as "Minőségét korlátlan ideig megőrzi", which means "Keeps its quality for unlimited time" (sadly I'm not a translator). But we are on the Wilde Wilde East so maybe our digestive tract is little bit more trained :) – hellsing Sep 25 at 21:24

Brown sugar bought in US and kept in an airtight package is totally good upto 2 years. I recently used a package which I had bought at Meijer 2 years back. I also saw this website that states that best quality is within 2 years, and if stored properly lasts forever.

http://www.eatbydate.com/other/sweets/how-long-does-brown-sugar-last/

My best guess that I am giving based on an experience from a normal sugar is that it should have melted or should feel like a sticky in hand

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    I don't understand what you mean. Sugar should have melted? Sugar doesn't melt until something like 190C (375F). – David Richerby Sep 22 at 17:05
  • Yep it will melt and u will some sticky feeling once u touch it..pls try once and add a comment – dr.engg Sep 23 at 13:04
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    No, really. Unless my cupboard gets up to about 190C, my sugar isn't going to melt. It may become sticky but that's because it's absorbed some water and has nothing to do with melting. – David Richerby Sep 23 at 13:07

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