Any brown sugar — be it refined, raw, or unrefined — tends to dry out after we open the original package. Even when we think we properly stored it in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag, brown sugar often clumps, cakes, or harden. That does not mean it is unsuitable for eating.
All brown sugars, and for that matter, granulated and powdered sugars, have an indefinite shelf life as they do not support microbial growth. Sellers are required to stamp on their product's bag a 2-year "Best By" date — not "Use By" date — but it is still safe to consume after that. Brown sugars become hard simply because they have two to five percent moisture, which evaporates.
In this post, I list five ways to return their moisture back. In the first two—called quick-fix methods—we simply heat it but have to use it as soon as possible as it will harden quickly. If you have time, use methods 3, 4, or 5. To keep brown sugars' moisture indefinitely, consider using a clay sugar softener described in method 5. If you know you are not going to use it for a long time, you can store them in the freezer or refrigerator.
To learn about different types of brown sugars, I invite you to read a previous post titled A Complete Guide to Brown Sugars—from Unrefined to Raw and Refined.
1) Quick Fix Method in Conventional Oven
Place sugar in an oven-safe container. Heat it to 250°F in a conventional oven for about 5 minutes.
As soon as the sugar becomes soft, fluff it with a fork, measure the amount you need right away as it will harden quickly, so apply this method only if you need it immediately. Use caution as sugar will be very hot.
2) Quick Fix Method in Microwave
Place brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a wet paper towel on top. Tightly cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap.
Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds to a minute or till you can fluff it with a fork—keep checking if it soft to prevent the sugar to melt. The sugar will be hot and soft but will harden quickly, so apply this method if you need it immediately.
3) 24-hour Method
Place brown sugar in a bowl. Cover it with a damp cloth for 24 hours.
Remove the cloth, fluff the sugar with a fork, and transfer it to an airtight container. The sugar should remain soft if properly stored. To keep brown sugar's moisture for an extended period, consider using a clay sugar softener – see image below – as described in the "Clay Softener Method."
4) 48-hour Method
Take an airtight container. Place brown sugar inside and cover it either with a wet paper towel, a slice of bread, a wedge of apple, or a lettuce leaf. Close the container tightly.
Remove the paper towel, bread, apple, or lettuce after about two days. Stir the sugar with a fork. Suggestion: To keep this brown sugar moist, use a clay sugar softener, as explained next.
5) Clay Softener Method
I use a clay (terracotta) sugar softener to soften brown sugars again and again. We can buy them in many shapes, such as bears, disks, and squares. The advantage of the clay softener is it may be permanently kept inside the container to prevent the sugar from hardening. Here is how you prepare it to use:
Soak the clay softener in water for fifteen minutes and then wipe excess moisture with a paper towel.
If your brown sugar is hard, place it with the moist clay softener in an airtight container (I just put it on top of the brown sugar). After about two days, the sugar should be moist. Keep the clay softener inside the container indefinitely. If your sugar begins to harden again, just re-soak your sugar softener, pat it dry, and use it again.
I own a variety of clay softeners, which I use not only to store with my sweeteners but also for dried fruits, baked items, and marshmallows. I have tried the following brands: The Brown Sugar Saver and Brown Sugar Bear. Two recently released sugar softeners include OXO Good Grips Brown Sugar Keeper and the Boris Bear Sugar Saver.
From now on, no more getting frustrated when you need brown sugar, and it is hard as a rock. With a sugar softener, you can keep any sugar – be it regular, raw, or unrefined – just like you opened a brand new bag.
To learn the difference between refined, raw, and unrefined brown sugars, refer to a previous blog post titled What is Brown Sugar?
Looking for brown sugars that do not harden? Read this post.
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