Can I still use brown sugar that has hardened?

If your brown sugar has hardened, don’t throw it out! With a few easy tips, you can soften it right up and use it in your recipes.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about hardened brown sugar:

  • Yes, you can still use brown sugar that has hardened. It just needs to be softened first.
  • Hardened brown sugar is caused by the moisture evaporating. It has not gone bad.
  • To soften, place the brown sugar in an airtight container with a slice of bread or apple. Let it sit overnight.
  • You can also microwave hardened brown sugar in short bursts or steam it until softened.
  • Always use softened brown sugar right away. It will quickly harden again if left exposed.

What Causes Brown Sugar to Harden?

Brown sugar contains molasses, which gives it its distinctive flavor, color, and moisture content. Over time, the natural moisture in brown sugar evaporates, causing the molasses and sugar to crystallize. This crystallization is what makes the brown sugar hard and clumpy.

Here are some common reasons brown sugar hardens:

  • Prolonged storage, especially in a cupboard or pantry
  • Storing in the refrigerator, which dries it out
  • Opening and closing the package frequently
  • Heat and humidity
  • Exposing it to air

Hardened brown sugar is purely a moisture issue, not an indication that the sugar has spoiled or gone bad. Even if it hardens into a solid clump or rock, the sugar can be restored to its soft, free-flowing state.

Can Hardened Brown Sugar Make You Sick?

Eating hardened brown sugar is not dangerous or unhealthy. The hardening does not mean the brown sugar has gone rancid or become contaminated in any way. It is still safe to eat.

However, very hard brown sugar can be difficult to incorporate properly into recipes. Bits of hardened sugar that do not fully dissolve can lead to an unpleasant, grainy texture in baked goods or other foods.

Food safety-wise, there is no risk from hardened brown sugar. But for taste and texture reasons, it is better to soften it before using.

How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar

Luckily, there are some simple methods to soften up that brick-like brown sugar clump. Here are some easy ways to do it:

Slice of Bread

Place the hardened brown sugar in an airtight container along with a slice of bread. Overnight, the bread will draw out the moisture from the sugar and redistribute it, softening the sugar. For faster results, you can use a damp paper towel instead of bread.

Apple Slices

Like bread, apple slices will also transfer moisture back into dried-out brown sugar. Place some apple slices in an airtight container with the sugar and let it sit for several hours minimum.


You can use a microwave to soften brown sugar quickly. Place the hardened sugar in a microwave-safe bowl or bag. Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring between each burst, until softened and pliable.

Be careful not to melt the sugar completely. Watch it closely so it just softens but does not become liquid.


Steam from a boiling pot of water or tea kettle can rescue hardened brown sugar. Place the sugar in a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup. Hold it over a steaming pot, being careful not to get any steam or moisture directly in the sugar. The indirect steam will gradually soften the sugar.


If you need to soften a lot of brown sugar, use your oven. Place the hardened sugar in a baking dish and bake at 250 F for a few minutes, stirring periodically, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Watch closely so it does not melt entirely. Remove it from the oven while still slightly hardened, as it will continue softening off the heat.

Tips for Storing Brown Sugar

Proper storage is key for keeping brown sugar soft and usable for as long as possible. Here are some storage tips:

  • Store in an airtight container, like a plastic bag or sealed jar.
  • Press excess air out of the bag or container before sealing.
  • Store in a cool, dry place like the pantry
  • Do not refrigerate or freeze brown sugar.
  • Use sugar within 6 months for best quality.
  • Store brown sugar separately from other foods to prevent moisture transfer.
  • Avoid repeated opening/closing of the storage bag or container.
  • If sugar hardens, follow softening methods before resealing and storing.

What to Do With Completely Hardened Brown Sugar

Over time, brown sugar will harden completely, sometimes into an impenetrable rock or clump. At this point, it can be very difficult to revive it using moisture-absorbing items.

If your brown sugar has hardened into an unworkable brick, try grinding it instead. Place the sugar clump in a sealed plastic bag and use a rolling pin, mallet, or back of a heavy pan to break it up into smaller pieces.

You can also use a food processor to grind hardened brown sugar into a fine powder, almost likes confectioners’ sugar. It can then be measured out and used like fresh brown sugar.

While not ideal, very hardened brown sugar can still be utilized in recipes by grinding it first. It may have a more concentrated molasses taste.

Can You Use Hardened Brown Sugar in Baking?

Most recipes using brown sugar will turn out better if you soften it first. Trying to bake with hardened brown sugar can negatively affect the texture.

When sugar bakes without being fully dissolved, it keeps its granulated structure. This results in a gritty, coarse texture.

However, depending on the recipe, a small amount of hardened brown sugar should be fine. The moisture and mixing during baking will likely be enough to dissolve most of it. Minimize the amount for best results.

Best Uses for Hardened Brown Sugar

If you don’t have time to soften brown sugar, here are some good uses for moderately hardened sugar:

  • Sprinkled on oatmeal or breakfast cereals
  • Mixed into cookie, pancake, or muffin batters
  • Adding to marinades and rubs for savory meats
  • Dissolving into sauces, glazes, and dressings

Avoid Using in These Recipes

Here are some recipes where hardened brown sugar is not recommended:

  • Cakes – Can cause dense spots and alter rising
  • Quick breads like banana – Will stay grainy
  • Frostings and icings – Gritty texture
  • Caramels and brittles – Will not melt smoothly

For these, it is best to take the time to adequately soften the brown sugar first for the most pleasing results.

Substitutes for Hardened Brown Sugar

If your brown sugar hardens and you need a quick replacement, here are some possible substitutions:

White Sugar & Molasses

Mix 1 cup white sugar with 1-2 teaspoons of molasses for a close approximation of light or dark brown sugar.

Maple Syrup

Replace 1 cup brown sugar with 3/4 cup maple syrup, reducing any liquids by about 3 tablespoons.


Substitute 1 cup brown sugar with about 3/4 to 1 cup honey, adjusting moisture as needed.

Granulated White Sugar

Regular granulated sugar can be used in place of brown sugar. The flavor will be slightly different with less complexity.


With the right techniques, that hardened brick of brown sugar can be quickly revived for all your baking needs. Absorbent items like bread and apples can reintroduce moisture overnight. Quick methods like steaming, microwaving, or baking also soften brown sugar effectively.

Proper sealed storage helps prevent hardening in the first place. But even completely solidified brown sugar can still be utilized after grinding it down into powder form.

Don’t throw out that hardened brown sugar! With a little time and effort, you can rescue it and bring it back to peak quality.

Table 1: Summary of Softening Methods

Method Instructions Time Needed
Bread Place in airtight container with bread overnight 6-8 hours
Apples Place in airtight container with apple slices for several hours 2-4 hours
Microwave Microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring between 1-2 minutes
Steaming Hold over steaming water, keeping away from direct steam 5-10 minutes
Oven Bake at 250 F, stirring periodically 2-5 minutes

Table 2: Brown Sugar Storage Tips

Storage Tip Reason
Airtight container or bag Prevents moisture evaporating
Press out excess air Minimizes air exposure
Pantry storage Cool, dry place
Don’t refrigerate Causes sugar to harden faster
Use within 6 months Ensures freshness
Store away from other foods Avoids moisture transfer

Leave a Comment