Why you gotta be so hard on me?

By Vanessa Greaves
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brown sugar in measuring cup
Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images
| Credit: Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images

Has this ever happened to you? You reach for the brown sugar in your pantry only to find it's turned into a rock-hard lump. Don't panic. Here are 5 simple ways to soften it up so it's as good as new. I'll also share tips for storing brown sugar so it's always fluffy and ready to use.

WATCH: How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar

Why Does Brown Sugar Go Hard?

Brown sugar hardens as its natural moisture evaporates. Unless you store it properly, what was a soft, fluffy package of brown sugar granules will hardened into a dense brown lump you could break windows with. It's still safe to eat, but there's no way you can measure it accurately for a recipe until it's soft and grainy again.

How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar

One of these 5 easy methods should do the trick, depending on how fast you need the fix.

1. How to soften brown sugar in the microwave.

Here's how to soften brown sugar quickly. Put the brown sugar lump in a microwave-safe bowl. Wet a paper towel and wring it out so it's lightly damp. Cover the bowl and microwave in 10-second bursts until the sugar is crumbly again. Poke the sugar with a fork between bursts to help break up the lump. Be sure not to microwave it for too long, otherwise the sugar will melt. Handle carefully because the sugar might be very hot.

2. How to soften brown sugar in the oven.

Heat the oven to 250° F. Place the hard sugar in an oven-safe bowl and warm it in the oven, checking every couple of minutes and crumbling with a fork until the sugar is soft. Caution: The sugar will be hot.

3. How to soften brown sugar with bread.

Put a slice of fresh bread in an airtight container with the lumpy brown sugar. After about a day, the sugar will have absorbed enough moisture from the bread to become its soft and crumbly self again. Remove the bread so it doesn't mold.

4. How to soften brown sugar with an apple slice.

Exactly like the bread method, but gluten-free. (Just kidding.) No, really. It works. Just remember to remove the apple afterwards.

5. How to soften brown sugar with terra cotta.

Hardened brown sugar is such a common problem, that some clever people have come up with a very clever solution. You simply soak a piece of terra cotta in water for about 20 minutes, then place it in an air-tight container with the dried out sugar lump. In about a day, the terra cotta revives the sugar and prevents it from lumping up again by maintaining an ideal moisture level. You can find terra cotta sugar savers that look like adorable bears (see picture below), leaves, or other small shapes.

Brown Sugar Bear
Photo by Meredith

How to Store Brown Sugar

To keep brown sugar properly moist and ready to use, you need to store it in an air-tight container in a dry pantry. (The fridge is too moist for proper sugar storage.) You can use the terra cotta method (above) to maintain moisture. If you did a bulk buy on brown sugar, you could break it down into smaller packages, squeeze out all the air, and freeze it. Note that it could take a couple of hours to thaw.


Out of brown sugar? Hack a batch of homemade brown sugar with this simple DIY.