Sugar is one of the hardier items in your pantry, but...
If you've taken a long summer vacation from baking, you might be wondering if your sugar has gone bad while you've been off. The good news: Sugar doesn't really expire. (Unlike some other baking ingredients, like flours!)
Here's what you need to know about sugar's staying power, including a little delve into sugar's history as a preservative (really!) and info about how different types of sugar fare when you're storing them long-term.
Why Granulated Sugar Doesn't Expire
Granulated white sugar truly has an indefinite expiration date, especially when stored in a dry, dark place. This is the reason why foods like jelly and peanut butter can stay good for so long—because sugar acts as an effective preservative.
In fact, historically, sugar was used (in addition to salting or smoking) to preserve foods before refrigeration came about, according to the Sugar Nutrition Resource Center. That's because sugar absorbs the moisture from the food—and water is essential for bacteria to grow. (And that's why sugar is often a key ingredient in pickling, too!)
How Can You Tell If Sugar Has Gone Bad?
While sugar may not expire, it can become contaminated with pests, moisture, and other substances that could impact its quality or make it dangerous to use. Sugar can also absorb odors and flavors, which is great if you want to toss in a used vanilla bean to create vanilla sugar—but not so great if your sugar becomes infused with something a little less enjoyable to smell or taste.
Many food safety organizations recommend tossing out sugar after two years, but if you don't notice any change to the odor or quality, old sugar will work just as well as a new bag of sugar.
You might have questions about specific types of sugar—so read on for how to keep them baking-ready whenever you're ready to create that next batch of cookies or other fabulous dessert.
Does Brown Sugar Expire?
Brown sugar has a bad reputation for "going bad," which in this case means hardening when it’s exposed to air. If you've ever had a bag of brown sugar turn into a brick when it's been left in its original packaging, you know exactly what we're talking about.
An airtight container goes a long way toward keeping your brown sugar from getting too hard to use. You can also use a terracotta disc made expressly for this purpose (just toss it in with your brown sugar). And if you're too late, a quick run through the microwave or a few drops of water mixed in can help soften the sugar.
To make the most of your brown sugar, store it in an airtight container and use it within two years for optimal freshness and flavor. You can also store brown sugar in the freezer, but keep in mind that you will need to thaw your brown sugar for a few hours before you use it.
Does Confectioners' Sugar Expire?
Confectioners' sugar (also known as powdered sugar) can also last for years if it's stored in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place. However, just like white and brown sugar, if confectioners' sugar is exposed to moisture or air, it won’t taste as good. Your best bet is to transfer any type of sugar you have to an airtight storage container and keep in the back of the pantry.
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