White (granulated) sugar has an indefinite shelf life due to its resistance to microbial growth. It will not allow molds to grow. White sugar has no nutritional value, but is a source of calories. It may help preserve some foods.
White sugar should be stored in a tightly sealed container which will not allow moisture or odors to penetrate. Polyethylene bags, Mylar-type bags, food-grade plastic buckets, glass canning jars, and #10 cans will all work well. Do not store granulated sugar in the original paper packaging for very long as it will absorb moisture and become clumpy. Place smaller bags of sugar inside of sealed food grade plastic buckets and they will stay good indefinitely. Store in a cool, dry place off of concrete floors.
Do not remove oxygen when packing sugar for long term storage. The sugar will turn into one giant clump if an oxygen absorber is placed in with it. Over time sugar may clump even when stored correctly, but the sugar can still be used. Be sure to store sugar away from chemicals and in an area free from odors. Sugar can absorb strong odors, even through packaging.
Moisture makes granulated sugar hard and lumpy. It is difficult, if not impossible to restore it to its original state. If you have hard, lumpy sugar it is likely still edible. Try putting it in a food processor and chopping it up or use it in recipes where it will be dissolved. Lumpy sugar works fine when making syrups, jams or jellies, candy … anything where it will be dissolved.
Powdered sugar has an indefinite shelf life and should be stored similar to granulated sugar. We have found the best way to store powdered sugar is to purchase it in 2 pound bags and then seal those bags in food grade plastic bucket. We opened a bucket which was 15 years old and the powdered sugar was the same as the day we originally purchased it.
Brown sugar has natural moisture and is not a good candidate for long term storage. Recommended longer term storage foods should contain less than 10 percent moisture. Brown sugar can contain up to 20 percent.
We store brown sugar in the original packaging in food grade plastic buckets labeled with the contents and the date. With granulated sugar you are trying to keep the moisture out. Brown sugar is the opposite; you are trying to keep the moisture in. This method of storage works well for both. We have stored brown sugar this way for several years and the sugar was still soft. It is best to rotate your brown sugar regularly.
Brown sugar should not be stored in a reduced oxygen environment as it can support microbial growth.
Brown sugar hardens when exposed to air because the moisture evaporates. It can be softened by reintroducing moisture in several ways:
- Heat brown sugar in a 250 degree oven in an oven safe pan. Watch carefully and as soon as it is soft measure the amount you need. It will harden as it cools.
- Place brown sugar in a microwave-safe container and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds. Repeat process until it is soft. It will harden as it cools.
- Place brown sugar in a plastic container with a small piece of plastic wrap or foil over the sugar. Put a damp paper towel or napkin on top of the plastic/foil. Cover tightly. Remove paper towel in a couple of days. Keep container tightly sealed.
- Place a few apple slices or a slice of bread in an air-tight container with the brown sugar. Remove after the sugar has softened in a day or two.
- Grind hardened chunks in a food processor. Be careful not to ruin your food processor.
- Soak a piece of clay in water for 30 minutes. Dry the piece so it isn’t dripping wet. Place the clay in the container with the sugar and seal. In a few days you should have softened sugar again. Leave the clay in as long as you like. You can actually purchase cute clay bears created for just this purpose.
Sugar is not a healthy food. That being said, it sure tastes good! A little sugar with some tart berries can create a delightful combination in desserts and is a basic ingredient in many comfort foods. It can be used to help preserve foods. Keeping a little extra sugar on hand may come in very handy when things get rough.