brown sugar

8 Easy Ways to Keep Brown Sugar Soft (and Remedies If It Hardens)

How maddening to reach for the brown sugar expecting it to be soft and fluffy, only to find a rock-hard clump in the bottom of the box. Or how about this: Brown sugar is on sale, so you stock up. Even without opening the bags or boxes left on the shelf, the contents, in time, turn stone-hard. Should you toss the bricks into the garbage? Better idea: Learn how to keep brown sugar soft and fluffy—and how to soften should it harden.

brown sugar

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar is white sugar plus molasses. Molasses is what gives brown sugar its distinct color, flavor, and moisture. Despite containing trace amounts of various nutrients from molasses, brown sugar is not deemed healthier than other types of sugar.

Why does it get hard as a brick?

Unlike regular white granulated sugar, brown sugar hardens when exposed to air. The moisture in the molasses dries out, leaving a thick sticky residue. This causes the sugar crystals to stick to themselves, and eventually, the whole thing turns into a big hard-as-a-rock mess.

Easy Ways to Keep Brown Sugar Soft

1. Airtight Container

Typically brown sugar comes from the store in a box or a bag. Or “sealed” in a bag inside a box. All methods are an attempt to keep that brown sugar soft. Just don’t count on it. Once opened, expect rock-hard results to follow, and sooner than you might think. A lot has to do with humidity, light, and heat.

Always transfer brown sugar from its packaging to an airtight sealable container. While the type of jar pictured below is excellent for day-to-day use, a good choice for long-term storage is a glass canning jar used with a FoodSaver vacuum sealer and jar sealing accessory.


2. Marshmallows

Even in a supposed airtight container—unless all of the air has been vacuumed out and sealed—there is enough moisture loss for brown sugar to harden. The solution is introducing moisture to the container. An easy way to do this is with a couple of marshmallows randomly buried in the sugar.

Marshmallows don’t change the taste of the brown sugar but rather give the molasses a way to replenish any lost moisture. This might sound silly, but it works. Just plan for the marshmallows to dry up and harden (better them than an entire lot of sugar). Replace as necessary.



3. White bread

Place a small piece of bread in the container with the brown sugar. Like marshmallows, white bread contains a good amount of moisture. As that transfers to the molasses in the brown sugar, the bread will become hard, the brown sugar soft. Replace that piece of bread weekly, or as needed.

loaf white bread sliced




4. Apple slice

A slice or two of a ripe apple, when dropped into a container of brown sugar also keeps it soft. Again, the molasses in the sugar attracts the moisture in the apple, and that keeps everyone happy. For a while.


5. Terra cotta

A piece of unglazed food-grade terra cotta makes for an ideal brown-sugar saver. Simply soak that piece of pottery in water, then drop it into the brown sugar container. Apply the lid and walk away. Your brown sugar will be perfectly soft and fluffy the next time you reach for it.

terra cotta disk to keep brown sugar soft

A terra cotta disk is also excellent for softening hardened brown sugar. Just add the soaked disk, close the lid, and check back later.

Rather than smashing a flower pot to come up with the terra cotta, I suggest you purchase an inexpensive unglazed terra cotta brown sugar keeper (available in a variety of sizes and shapes) that is food-grade (safe) and just the right size.


6. Brown sugar keeper

If you intend to purchase an airtight container for brown sugar, I suggest you get one like this OXO that comes with the terra cotta disk. Now you have the best of both worlds: An excellent airtight container and a terracotta sugar keeper all in one. Give the terracotta a good soak in water every few weeks and replace it in the container.

Having purchased this brown sugar container with the terra cotta  (below) to give it a test and honest review, I found it so ideal that it has become my permanent brown-sugar storage method of choice. It works great.




Remedies Should It Harden

7. Food processor

An easy way to fix brown sugar that’s gone hardened is with your food processor. Use a hammer if you must, but find a way to break off and smash a big chunk of hardened brown sugar. Place in a food processor. Apply the lid. Give it short pulses until it breaks up into tiny granules. Return brown sugar to an airtight container. Add marshmallows, apple slices, white bread, or cute bear as above, and apply the lid. Check back in a few days. That’s what we’re talking about. Soft and fluffy brown sugar!


8. Microwave

If you’re in the middle of a recipe, only to discover the brown sugar you need right now has hardened, here’s a quick fix that will keep you going: Place that hardened brown sugar (the amount called for in the recipe if you can get it down to that amount) into a microwave safe bowl. Thoroughly wet a paper towel, wring it out so it is not dripping, and place it in the bowl on top of the brown sugar—microwave on high for 20 seconds.white microwave oven










Published originally 10-6-22; Updated and Republished 3-11-23


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9 replies
  1. Maxie says:

    Will the brown sugar tricks work for white sugar? I purchased a bag of it and noticed that it felt hard, but thot I’d break it up when I got home!! I used a big fork and got what I needed but didn’t add moisture!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Give it a try and let us know your outcome. Typically, while white sugar can get clumpy, it breaks down to smooth granular consistency quite easily by whacking it a bit.

      • Maxie says:

        I tried the little dish of water and it didn’t seem to make any difference, so I ended up using my potato masher to break up the sugar lumps! When done I had more sugar than I had to begin with! I measured out a cup to use put had to pack it in the cup! Think I should have put it back before taking it out of the store!!

  2. M says:

    I discovered that a honey pail can be repurposed for brown sugar storage. It’s already food grade and seals very effectively. I haven’t had to chisel out brown sugar since making the switch.

  3. Sheri says:

    I was told to keep it in the bag and squeeze the air out and roll it up
    Air is what makes it hard.
    It works for me.
    My Brown sugar stays soft.

  4. Joyce Shumate says:

    I put my brown sugar in a freezer bag and freeze it. I take it out briefly when I need to use it; it softens up to get what I need. Then put the rest back in the freezer.

  5. Elizabeth Phillips says:

    The way I get hardened brown sugar soft again is this: I put it in an airtight plastic lid container, and in a small plastic cup (about 2 tbsp.size), I place a small piece of wet paper towel, and then put the cup on top of the sugar and seal the container. You can always check to see if you have to re-wet the paper. You may wish to always have a slightly wet paper in a tiny cup in the container to keep the sugar soft.

  6. Loy says:

    I have two Progressive Brown Sugar Keepers. One for light brown sugar and one for dark. They work very well, and most of the time I forget to get the terra cotta disk wet. I believe OXO is a Progressive brand. I would purchase them again if it became necessary.

  7. Brian Fullmer says:

    If you have someone in your family with Celiac disease, using bread to soften brown sugar is not a good idea, Our son was diagnosed with Celiac a while ago and asked us to not use bread. Something we hadn’t thought of.


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