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Does Sugar Go Bad? Because That Box Has Been Sitting in the Pantry for Who Knows How Long...
Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography/Getty Images

You may not have achieved star baker status just yet, but you can follow a recipe and whip up a mean sugar cookie when the mood strikes. In fact, you’ve been known to do such a thing, um, once every year or three. Let’s be honest: You either bake sweet treats on the regular, or you reserve such a culinary undertaking for special occasions. If you fall into the latter category and a special occasion has come around, you might be wondering whether those dusty baking ingredients in your pantry are still fair game. And perhaps you already know that flour and coffee can be finicky...but does sugar go bad? Good news, friends: The sweet stuff is safe. Although sugar can undergo changes in texture over time, there is nothing about this staple that invites mold or spoilage of any kind. In other words, you can stop giving that old bag of Domino the side-eye and carry on with your culinary project. 

How Long Does Sugar Last?

In case you missed it: Sugar does not go bad. Whether you’re using just a pinch for a meat marinade or a whole cup in a recipe for some sort of indulgent baked good, old sugar poses no health risk. That said, sugar does have a shelf life when it comes to optimal quality—namely in terms of texture. Mealy or clumpy sugar won’t make you sick, but it can affect the outcome of your dish, so for best results follow these guidelines. 

  • Granulated sugar: There are actually no guidelines here. Granulated sugar will stay fresh and perfect forever. Seriously. And here’s another tip: If your granulated sugar starts to form small clumps, they will disintegrate with only the lightest touch.
  • Confectioners’ sugar: Commonly known as powdered sugar, this fluffy and ultra-fine sugar is often used in icing recipes. Don’t be deceived by the delicate texture, though, because confectioners’ sugar will still be at its best for up to two years.
  • Brown sugar: For that soft, fresh from the store texture, you should aim to use brown sugar up within 18 months. After that, you can expect your brown sugar to lose a little moisture. (A natural but harmless part of the aging process.) And if your brown sugar has aged, fear not: It will taste just as sweet as the young stuff, but it might be slightly hardened at first—a problem that can be resolved by simply breaking up the clumps before using it in your recipe.

How Long Does Brown Sugar Last?

Brown sugar, like all the sugars, does not go bad. Still, unlike confectioners and granulated sugar, the brown stuff boasts a higher moisture content, which means you’re more likely to notice textural changes over time due to evaporation. So, what does that look like?  Well, your box of brown sugar might turn into a solid brick (decidedly not measuring cup-friendly). Fortunately, there’s an easy way to soften your brown sugar—just try this easy microwave hack per the U.S. Sugar Co.

  1. Place half a pound of brown sugar in a microwave bowl.
  2. Dampen a few pieces of paper towel and place them on top of the sugar.
  3. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  4. Microwave on high for 90 seconds.

How to Store Sugar

Cool and dry storage areas are ideal for all types of sugar—so skip the fridge, which might introduce unwanted humidity, and stick with the pantry. Choose cupboards away from heat sources like the stove and oven (because these also give off moisture) and keep open packages of sugar in airtight containers. Also, be sure to store sugar away from smelly items lest it absorb the odor. (Because there’s nothing worse than blueberry muffins with an out-of-place garlic flavor.) 

How to Tell If Sugar is Bad

This one is easy...because sugar does not go bad. The only things you have to worry about are hardening and clumping, which are not very worrisome at all when you consider that they don’t affect the quality of the product, but only make measuring a bit more cumbersome. When you see these changes occur with any type of sugar, you can simply break up the hardened bits with your hands and then use a sifter to restore the original texture—or use the microwave trick above for petrified brown sugar. One more thing: Just because sugar doesn’t go bad or grow bacteria, doesn’t mean it’s not susceptible to bugs—follow the storage advice above to ensure that your cakes stay ant-free. 

There you have it—that old box of sugar lurking in the back of the pantry is still safe to consume. (And you now have zero excuses for not bringing something to that bake sale tomorrow.) 

RELATED: Does Flour Go Bad?

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