Storage Tips

The No-Fail Way to Store Your Brown Sugar

Take charge of your ingredients; store sugar without fear, mess, or clumps.

May 27, 2020

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Take charge of your ingredients; store your brown sugar without the mess and without the clumps.

How to Store Brown Sugar on Food52

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There are kitchen messes we know we bring upon ourselves: oil splatters in every corner of the stove, drips of batter on the counter. In these cases, the mess, though frustrating, is our own fault.

But there is one ingredient that never fails to make things difficult, entirely of its own accord: brown sugar. No matter how carefully you pour or spoon it from the cardboard box, it spills. Tiny granules sprinkle everywhere, wasted and a pain to clean up.

The packaging is downright irresponsible, nonsensical, just plain stupid—that’s the only way to put it. White sugar flows out of its packaging neatly and without a problem. But not brown sugar. It sticks together, and the mouth of the box isn’t big enough to allow you to stick in your hand and break up the clumps. (Some brands of brown sugar come in sealable plastic bags, but they don’t work much better—ever get a granule of sugar stuck in the lip of the bag, rendering it impossible to close?) Worst yet, it’s difficult to close cardboard boxes effectively, causing the sugar to harden. You definitely don't want that kind of inconvenient surprise when you're craving your favorite chocolate chip cookies

How to Store Brown Sugar on Food52

The solution: First, move your brown sugar to a different and better location where it can be more easily transferred, whether that’s a canister on your counter (along with the more usual suspects of flour, white sugar, and coffee/tea), or in a Tupperware in your pantry. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure the container is airtight.

How to Store Brown Sugar on Food52

Next, put a marshmallow in the container. This will keep the brown sugar soft, owing to the moisture in the marshmallow. You can also use a slice of white bread, or a couple cut-up wedges of apple, both of which have enough moisture to do the job, too. If you go through a lot of brown sugar (or have the extra foresight), you can also pick up a terra-cotta brown sugar saver to stash alongside. The earthenware disc absorbs water wonderfully and will release moisture back into the sugar as it sits. 

Finally, if you happen to find yourself in a situation where you haven’t followed the above advice (or, if a friend hasn’t and calls you in a panic wanting to know what to do), there’s an easy trick to making your hardened brown sugar soft once again. It’s not ideal, but it most certainly works in a pinch: Put the mass of sugar into a microwave-safe bowl. Top it with a damp paper towel and zap it for about 30 seconds, then break it up with a fork. Voilà! This trick works best if you're using up the rest of your brown sugar right away; if you microwave it, bake with only some of it, and then store it again as above, the sugar will become as hard as a rock and won't be nearly as easy to salvage.

So go ahead and get messy. Bust out all the brown sugar you need for your baked goods. But do it on your own terms.

Photos by James Ransom

Do you have any other tricks to store brown sugar? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Written by: Emma Wartzman


HalimahP October 19, 2022
I am unable to buy brown sugar (unavailable in Morocco) so I have begun making my own. How often do you have to change out the bread or apple? Is there a risk of them spoiling?
Momdotcom41 August 27, 2020
Open the cardboard box, remove the plastic bag from the box, trim off a minuscule amount of plastic to access the brown sugar. Then roll up the remaining plastic bag, slip on a simple elastic band lengthwise over the bag and return it to the box UPSIDE-SIDE DOWN and the brown sugar stays soft. I’ve been doing this for 45 years. No need to transfer to another container, or purchase marshmallows (what shall we DO with that bag to keep the marshmallows soft?!)
bjm August 27, 2020
I buy light brown sugar in the 2 lb. bag at Costco or Sams and store a small amount in a quart glass jar with a piece of dried pear or apple. I keep the remainder in a gallon glass jar with the terracotta bear. Both work well. I store dark brown sugar with the dried fruit slice, but buy in smaller quantities.
Melanie B. May 31, 2020
I buy brown sugar in two-pound bags. When I open the bag, I take out what I need for whatever recipe I'm making and pour the rest into a gallon zip lock bag, fold the bag over to squeeze out all the air, and seal the zipper. Keeps the sugar soft and perfect for a very long months.
SophieL May 31, 2020
Forty years of storing brown sugar in Tupperware (the real deal, not imitators) has worked for me. It stacks perfectly with other baking staples in the pantry.
Bobbi May 31, 2020
Squeeze your sugar!!! I keep mine in a Ziploc freezer bag on the door of the fridge. Press out the air, and once in a while, take it and squeeze it for a few seconds. You can measure it right from the bag, just turn the top down, and you won't get it in the"zipper"
witloof May 29, 2020
Another freezer convert here! I fold the plastic bag and secure it with a rubber band and then put that into a resealable bag and flatten the air out of it. It works great.
Glenn H. May 7, 2015
My mother in-law and now me keeps my brown sugar in a double zip ziplock freezer bag in the freezer, ready to use in minuets, just take it out when your getting your other ingerdients ready and it will be ready when you are soft easily measured and off you go.
Holly-Anne G. November 9, 2014
I've used a terra cotta disk for years & it's worked well for me. It needs to be soaked in water for about 15 minutes, then towel dried before putting it in the bag of brown sugar. Keeping it in the original bag with one corner cut open is best and store in a sealed container (i.e., Tupperware type). When it starts to harden again just repeat the terra cotta disk in water step again. Disks are available in kitchen stores or most dept. stores that have an aisle with kitchen items.
Mary May 31, 2020
I'm in Canada, and we can buy the discs (here they come as cute little shapes, like bears and mice and maple leafs) in the sugar aisle of the grocery store. They are on those hanging racks that hold that sort of thing.
Jen Z. September 4, 2013
My BBF show me to just with one slice of apple is great to softener again the brown sugar, I did it and work perfect so I share this with all of you.
barbette C. August 27, 2020
That is what I do too.
amysarah September 4, 2013
I keep it in a well sealed container in the freezer too. I find it stays soft - defrosts within only a few minutes.
Wendy G. September 4, 2013
I store it in the freezer, which keeps it from going hard. Leave on the counter for 15-30 mins and it defrosts enough to use easily.
Savour September 4, 2013
I've found if I store brown sugar in a sealed container (either a mason jar, or currently a metal canister from Ikea) it doesn't dry out - no marshmallow required. The bread or marshmallow is good to revive dry brown sugar.
KirstenS September 4, 2013
I have a terra cotta disk that I soak in water every few months and toss in the jar with the brown sugar and that works great. The neck on my other jar (for light brown sugar) is too small for the disk, but a friend showed me how to cover the surface with a piece of paper towel. That works great too!
Ann K. September 4, 2013
When I was a kid, my Mom would only make brown sugar candy when the sugar was too hard. So I would climb up to cupboard and leave the sugar top wide open.....
vicki C. September 4, 2013
I put a slice of bread.. brown sugar was hard at nite.. by morning it's soft
Lari September 4, 2013
If you squeeze the box prior to purchasing it, you won't have this problem. if the box is soft, buy it. If not, don't.
Slimfender September 4, 2013
I buy brown sugar in a resealable bag and have never had issues. I just throw it in an extra ziploc and don't mess with apples or expensive containers or anything. The ziploc gets rinsed and reused of course.
Smaug May 28, 2020
I agree- haven't seen brown sugar in a box in years, the bags work fine. I question how much moisture there is in a marshmallow anyway.
Kathryn September 4, 2013
I'll try the marshmallow - great tip! If you quarter an apple and put it in with hardened brown sugar overnight it will soften the block fairly well, a trick my Gran showed me.
mdelgatty June 3, 2020
but it makes the sugar taste like apples...!
SuSanFran September 4, 2013
I bought two containers called "brown sugar keepers" on Amazon, and they were worth every penny. They have a terra cotta disk in the lid that you soak in water for 15 minutes every two months, which I use my Outlook calendar to keep track of (lawyering for 30 years will do that to you). One for dark brown sugar, one for light brown sugar, and they even look good in the pantry.