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For most food items, it is fairly easy to tell when they go bad due to the way they look or smell. However, not every food has obvious signs of spoilage. You may wonder about sugar. Does sugar go bad?
The answer is sugar does not go bad in a way that makes it dangerous or unhealthy to eat. However, it may not remain edible for eternity.
The Usability and Edibility of Sugar
When approached with the question, “Does sugar go bad?” Reader’s Digest explains all types of sugar will remain usable and edible as long as you do not expose it to moisture or heat. It may undergo some changes over time even with proper storage that would make it less than desirable to eat or use, but it will not become poisonous or rancid like other food items.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture explains sugar is a shelf-stable food, which means it requires no refrigeration or special handling to remain safe to eat. You should store sugar in a cool, dry place in a sealed container. It is best to move sugar from its original bag or box to a container that you can tightly seal.
One exception is brown sugar, which contains more moisture than other types of sugar. It does best in slightly humid storage. Although, you still should keep it in a tightly sealed container.
You may wonder if the answer to “Does sugar go bad?” is no, why doesn’t it spoil? According to UCSB, the reason sugar does not spoil is that sugar kills the organisms that cause food to go bad and become dangerous to eat. For this reason, sugar is often an ingredient used to preserve other foods.
A Word About Dates on Packaging
Sugar typically will not include an expiration date on its packaging. Instead, it contains a “best by” date.
It will not have an expiration date because it never spoils. However, the “best by” date tells you the date by which you should use it for optimal quality, which is incredibly important when using it to make food items, like sugar cookies.
After about two years, many types of sugar will start to show aging issues, making them less than ideal for use and consumption. It will not make you sick, but it won’t be as good as fresh sugar to eat or use in cooking or baking.
You may also see other dates on the packaging that may seem like they reflect the safety of the product, but they do not. For example, sell-by dates are for store inventory purposes and do not reflect food quality. They simply help the store ensure it maintains fresh stock on its shelves.
A use-by date is another way to say best by so it means the same thing. If a product is past these dates, you can still safely use it, and it probably won’t have quality issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many different types of sugar and ways in which you may use sugar. When asking, “Does sugar go bad?” you may have a specific type of sugar in mind. However, all sugar is safe to use indefinitely.
Even with that answer, you may still have questions about the different types and their usability. And we want to be sure to address all your concerns.
Does raw sugar go bad?
Raw sugar is simply white sugar that has not undergone as much processing. It still has some molasses in it but not enough that it becomes brown sugar. You could say it is the step between white sugar and brown sugar. It also has a coarser texture to it with larger granules.
Like white sugar, raw sugar will never go bad. It could lump up, but this is not as common due to its rough texture and larger granules. It can get hard, though, if it has had moisture exposure.
To fix raw sugar that is hard, you can put it on a baking sheet in an oven set at 150 degrees. Leave it there for 15 to 30 minutes. You want to remove it as soon as it softens, so check it often. If you leave it too long, it will melt and burn.
When does brown sugar go bad?
Brown sugar is an earlier version of white sugar. After harvesting, sugar contains a lot of molasses. To get white sugar, the manufacturer will process all the molasses out. To create brown sugar, it will leave some of that molasses in.
The amount of molasses left in the product will produce either light or dark brown sugar. This type of sugar has a richer taste than white sugar because of the molasses. It also reacts differently in baked goods.
All brown sugar is compressible or packs because of the high moisture content. However, the moisture in the sugar will still not lead to spoiling because the sugar content is too high to allow the growth of organisms.
So, brown sugar also never goes bad. It will harden eventually as the moisture evaporates. You should be extra careful to not expose it to air when storing it to avoid accelerated moisture loss. However, moisture loss happens regardless of what you do.
For this reason, the recommendation is to use it with two years of purchase. If it is too old, it will become rock hard and inedible as is. You can add moisture back in to revive it if it isn’t too far gone.
Do add moisture, put the sugar in a bowl, cover it with a moistened paper towel and plastic wrap, and microwave it for a couple of minutes. You need to be careful not to overheat or it will melt and burn.
Does sugar and cinnamon ever go bad when left out?
A cinnamon and sugar mixture is a common staple. You can shake some on buttered toast for a nice breakfast treat or use it in baked goods, such as cinnamon rolls.
Cinnamon is another shelf-stable food item, which means it will never expire or go bad just like sugar. However, it will lose its strength over time. Eventually, the spice will have little flavor.
In general, you should use a cinnamon and sugar mixture within three to four years for the optimal flavor. If you come across a mix and don’t know how old it is, just taste it. It won’t be rancid or spoiled, so this is the best way to tell if the cinnamon has lost its potency.
When does powdered/confectioner sugar go bad?
Powdered sugar is just another name for confectioner sugar. You may also hear people call it icing sugar. It all means the same thing. This is a highly processed white sugar that has been turned into a powdered form. It also has some cornstarch added to it, which you should note is also shelf-stable with no expiration date.
The cornstarch is what helps make this type of sugar great for icing and other decorative baking ingredients, such as rolled fondant. It is also super sweet, much more so than white sugar, because of its density.
Like all other types of sugar, it will never go bad. However, it is best to use it within two years of purchase as it will lose its fluffy consistency.
You may have your powered sugar ball up or develop lumps, which are from the cornstarch content. In addition, since it is so fine, any moisture immediately deflates it and ruins the texture. For these reasons, two years is about the time when it begins to gather too much moisture to maintain its integrity.
It is not possible to soften up powdered sugar that has begun to clump. The only option is to break up the clumps, which you may be able to do with a fork or by putting it in a blender.
How long does it take for cane sugar to go bad?
Cane sugar is a little different from white sugar. Cane sugar comes from sugar cane whereas white sugar comes from sugar beets. However, this difference does not impact its expiration date.
Cane sugar will never go bad. It all goes back to the science and the fact that any type of sugar kills organisms that will spoil food.
You can get cane sugar in all the similar forms to white sugar. The rules about storage and dealing with issues are exactly the same. For example, if it begins to clump, like white sugar, you can try the oven warming trick to break it up.
Bake All Those Goodies
Wrapping up the complete answer to “Does sugar go bad?” is no. Sugar won’t go bad in terms of spoiling, but it can get to the point where it isn’t very usable. You can sometimes revive old sugar, but you may also have to cut your losses and toss it if it is too far gone. In any case, you should never have to worry that your sugar will make you sick because it keeps organisms at bay to prevent true spoilage.