How long can you keep sugar in the raw?

Sugar in the raw, sometimes called turbinado sugar, is a popular sweetener made from pure sugarcane extract. With its light brown color and mild molasses flavor, many people prefer it over regular white table sugar. But if you buy sugar in the raw, how long does it last before going bad?

How Long Does Sugar Last?

Sugar is highly shelf-stable and can last indefinitely if stored properly. The shelf life of sugar depends on the best before date and how it is stored.

An unopened package of sugar in the raw will typically last 2 to 4 years past the printed best before date on the package. Once opened, sugar in the raw will last approximately 6 months to 1 year.

Proper storage is important for maximizing freshness and shelf life. Keep sugar in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Humidity, temperature fluctuations, and exposure to moisture are enemies of shelf life.

Does Sugar Go Bad?

Sugar does not spoil in the sense of becoming unsafe to eat. However, over time, sugar can dry out, cake up, or harden. Old sugar may also take on a stale aroma or flavor.

Signs that sugar has gone bad include:

  • Hardened crystals
  • Clumping or caking
  • Dried out texture
  • Stale or faded aroma
  • Off flavors

Sugar may develop an off odor or taste flat and dull rather than sweet if it has been stored for a very long time. Extremely old sugar may not dissolve properly in liquids.

Can Expired Sugar Make You Sick?

Sugar does not spoil in a way that makes it unsafe to eat. Microbes do not grow in pure sugar to produce toxins or other byproducts that can cause foodborne illness.

However, if expired sugar grows mold, which can happen if it gets exposed to moisture, then it should be discarded. Consuming moldy sugar could cause allergy symptoms or respiratory irritation.

Sugar also does not become toxic or mutated when old. The shelf life reflects quality rather than safety.

How To Tell If Sugar In The Raw Has Gone Bad

Here are some tips for identifying if your sugar in the raw has spoiled:

  • Check the expiration or best before date. If it has passed, the sugar may be stale.
  • Inspect the packaging. If the bag is ripped or damaged, moisture could have gotten inside.
  • Give the sugar a sniff. Stale sugar will not smell as sweet.
  • Look for signs of moisture, clumping, hardened bits, or crystallization.
  • Taste a small amount. Sugar that has gone off will taste flat or dull rather than sweet.

If your sugar in the raw smells funny, tastes bland, has changed texture, or shows other signs of spoilage, it is best to discard it.

How To Store Sugar Properly

Here are some tips for storing sugar correctly to maximize freshness:

  • Keep sugar in an airtight container with a tight lid.
  • Store in a cool, dry place away from heat and moisture.
  • Avoid humidity which can cause clumping.
  • Do not refrigerate or freeze sugar as this can cause moisture condensation.
  • Keep sugar away from oven, sinks, or other damp locations.
  • Use clean, dry utensils to remove sugar from the container.
  • Do not returned used wet spoons or measures to the sugar container.
  • Pour out only the amount of sugar needed for each use.
  • Always replace the lid immediately after use.

Following proper storage guidelines will help keep sugar fresh and free-flowing for longer.

How To Soften Hard Brown Sugar

Brown sugar contains more moisture than white sugar. Over time, the natural molasses in brown sugar can dry out causing it to harden. Here are some ways to soften up hard brown sugar:

  • Place a slice of fresh bread on top of the brown sugar in the container overnight. The bread will help redistribute moisture.
  • Add a few drops of water and stir the sugar, then let sit overnight covered.
  • Microwave the brown sugar for 10-20 seconds to release moisture.
  • Place sugar in an airtight container with a slice of apple or orange. The fruit releases ethylene gas which will soften the sugar.
  • Run the sugar under hot water briefly to melt the hardened molasses.

Softened brown sugar should be used promptly rather than stored. Prevent hardening by storing sugar properly in an airtight container.

Substitutes For Spoiled Sugar

If you discover your sugar has spoiled, you have a few options to replace it:

  • White table sugar – This makes the best 1:1 replacement for sugar in the raw in baking recipes.
  • Brown sugar – While the flavor will differ slightly, you can replace cup for cup.
  • Honey – Use 3/4 cup honey for every 1 cup sugar. Reduce liquids in the recipe as honey contains more moisture.
  • Maple syrup – Use 3/4 cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup sugar. Also reduce other liquids.
  • Agave nectar – Replace 1 cup of sugar with 2/3 cup agave, and reduce liquids.

When substituting liquids like honey for sugar, the outcome may differ in consistency or texture. But using one of these alternatives will still yield a sweet treat.

Can You Make Caramel With Spoiled Sugar?

It’s not recommended to use sugar that has gone bad when making caramel. For caramelization to happen properly, the sugar needs to fully dissolve and achieve the correct temperature ranges as it cooks. Spoiled sugar may crystallize, clump, or dry out during the process which can prevent the proper chemical reactions.

Caramel made with expired sugar can end up grainy, crystallized, or milky looking instead of smooth. It may also fail to reach the ideal rich golden brown color. And any off flavors present will come through in the finished caramel.

For best results use fresh sugar within the best before date. Or substitute white granulated sugar if your sugar in the raw is past its prime.

Can You Use Old Sugar When Making Bread?

Using expired sugar in bread baking is not recommended. Sugar helps feed yeast and allows bread to rise properly. If the sugar is hardened, clumped or dry, it may not dissolve effectively during the bread making process.

Old sugar can also give bread an odd flavor. The taste of the sugar will come through in the finished loaf. So stale sugar could lead to unpleasant tasting bread.

For best rise and flavor, use sugar that is still within the expiration date range. Or substitute freshly purchased white granulated sugar.

Does Sugar Go Bad When Stored in the Fridge?

Storing sugar in the fridge or freezer is not recommended. The cold and damp conditions can actually make sugar spoil faster.

When sugar is refrigerated, condensation can form on the packaging each time the door is opened. This moisture is absorbed by the sugar, causing it to clump together. The dampness is the perfect environment for growth of mold.

Sugar stored in the freezer can become hard and caked. Condensation when removed from the freezer will also cause clumping as the sugar warms up while exposed to humidity.

For optimal freshness, store sugar at room temperature in an airtight container in a cupboard or pantry. Only refrigerate or freeze sugars already containing moisture, like brown sugar.

Does Microwaving Sugar Make it Spoil Faster?

Microwaving does not necessarily make sugar spoil faster. However, microwaving can cause rapid moisture loss if the sugar is heated too long or at too high power.

Briefly microwaving sugar to soften brown sugar, dissolve granules in syrups, or for other quick cooking is fine. But excessively heating sugar can remove moisture, leading to a dried out texture.

Another risk of microwaving is creating hotspots. Uneven heating through microwaving can cause caramelization in areas of very high heat. This alters the chemical structure of the sugar.

As long as you microwave sugar at low to medium power for brief intervals, it should retain quality and avoid premature spoilage.

Does Refrigerating Brown Sugar Extend Its Shelf Life?

Brown sugar should be refrigerated, but not due to concerns over spoilage. Since brown sugar contains molasses, it holds onto more moisture than white sugar. Keeping brown sugar in an airtight container in the fridge helps prevent drying out and hardening.

Cold temperatures slow down the evaporation of moisture from the brown sugar. Refrigeration also helps prevent mold growth by avoiding a humid environment.

However, brown sugar lasts a relatively short time compared to white sugar due to the moisture content. Keeping brown sugar in the fridge can extend its life from 6 months to up to 1 year.

Can Old Sugar Harm Your Health?

Sugar that has truly gone bad or rancid will not be toxic and cause illness or disease. However, mold growth is one risk of spoiled sugar that can be harmful.

Eating moldy sugar could trigger allergic symptoms or respiratory distress for those sensitive to molds. Some types of mold are capable of producing toxic substances called mycotoxins as well.

Avoid consuming sugar that is visibly moldy. Also using extremely expired sugar without thoroughly inspecting first is not recommended, as you may miss hidden mold.

Sugar does not harbor the same types of dangerous bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli that can grow in old, spoiled foods and cause food poisoning when ingested.

Signs Your Brown Sugar Has Gone Bad

Because of its added molasses, brown sugar is more prone to spoilage than white sugar. Signs your brown sugar has gone bad include:

  • Hard, solid clumps
  • Dry, grainy texture
  • Grayish or faded color
  • No longer smells sweet
  • Develops a musty or unpleasant smell
  • Appearance of mold spots
  • Loss of moisture and drying out

Hardened brown sugar can be revived if caught soon enough. But brown sugar that is moldy, smells musty, or is extremely dry should be discarded.

Does Sugar Go Bad After Opening?

Sugar can expire faster after opening the package. This is because exposure to air allows some moisture loss. Each time you open the package, more humid air gets inside while dry air escapes.

To preserve sugar after opening:

  • Transfer to an airtight container.
  • Press excess air out and seal the lid tightly.
  • Store in a pantry or cupboard, not in humid places like near the oven.
  • Use a clean, dry spoon each time when taking sugar out.
  • Keep the container closed immediately after each use.

Follow the above guidelines, and granulated white sugar will stay fresh for 1 to 2 years after opening. Brown sugar may last up to one year.

How To Check If Sugar is Still Good

Here are some ways to test if that bag of sugar in your pantry is still fresh and safe to use:

  • Look at expiration or best before date. If it has passed, sugar may be stale.
  • Check for hardened texture or clumping of crystals.
  • Smell the sugar. Fresh sugar smells sweet; old sugar may not.
  • Check for moisture buildup or spotting inside packaging.
  • Taste a tiny bit. Stale sugar will have flat taste.
  • Look for signs of mold growth like fuzzy spots.
  • Test dissolving in warm water. Fresh sugar should dissolve readily.

If your sugar stays dry and free-flowing with no dampness or off odors, it should be fine to use.


With proper storage in an airtight container in a dry location, sugar can stay fresh and usable for up to 2 to 4 years past the printed expiration date.

Signs that sugar has spoiled include hardened texture, clumping, moisture buildup, musty smell, mold growth, and flat taste. But sugar itself does not pose any safety or contamination risks when expired.

To maximize shelf life, use best practices for opened and unopened sugar. And substitute fresh sugar or alternate sweeteners if you discover your sugar has exceeded its prime.

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