I have often wondered if sugar can go bad when stored in areas of the house that are subject to heat, like above the oven or in the garage. Since packages come with an expiration date on the package I’d hate to accelerate the process or potentially make it become a breeding ground for microscopic creatures. To find out, I did some extensive research and decided to share my findings here.
So, does sugar go bad in heat? Sugar does not decompose or go bad in temperate heat. However, elevated ambient temperatures can cause the air around sugar to condense, creating water droplets that can be absorbed by the sugar and clump or harden it. Even so, this does not render it bad nor lessen its sweetening potential.
Now, let’s take a look at what heat does to sugar and how to properly store it. I’ll even tell you how to revitalize it when it becomes hard or clumped.
What Does Heat Do to Sugar?
Natural table sugars, do not spoil in atmospheric heat. Its stability is derived from the crystallization process, which is actually fairly complicated. During normal storage, there is not enough energy in the air to break down the sugar. Because of this, normal atmospheric temperatures will not cause sugar to become inedible or infected by some foodborne virus.
While moderate temperature won’t affect the sugar compound, you need to keep the sugar away from extreme heat and flames, or it will chemically degrade. Otherwise, direct heat will transform sugar into a nongranular state.
Because when sugars are heated, its long carbon chains are broken down into smaller fragments. These simpler sugars continue to dehydrate due to the heat and will eventually carmelize. This is what gives you a browning of the sugar. You might see this if you leave your granulated sugar exposed to direct sunlight. At this point, you no longer have sugar, and it probably shouldn’t be used as an ingredient in your food.
Instead of sugar degrading, the biggest issue for sugar in moderate heat is the condensing of air into water droplets. As sugar tends to absorb moisture from the air, it will readily take in any water it comes into contact with.
Incorporating the water molecules into the sugar’s structure results in the sugar crystals bonding together to form a clump. While clumpy sugar may still be edible and retain its sweet state, it might not be the best ingredient for your culinary ventures. It’s wise to try and get rid of the clumps first.
What to Do If My Sugar Clumps?
If your sugar clumps, there are ways to revitalize and salvage it so that it is transformed back into its granulated state. Here are a few simple tricks to this and depending on the severity of clumping.
- Declump with a spoon- When dealing with just slightly clumpy sugar, you can use the back of a spoon to apply pressure to the chunks of sugar. Keep applying pressure from your spoon until the sugar is worked back into its granular state.
- Break out the rolling pin- With a more moderate hardening of your sugar, a suitable method to get the sugar back to its purchased state is to put the clumped sugar into a ziplock bag. Next, take a rolling pin and hit the sugar hard to break the clumps into smaller pieces. Following this, run the rolling pin over the bagged sugar. Repeat until the clumps are dismantled.
- Use a machine- An alternative method is to break your hardened sugar apart mechanically. This can be achieved by using a coffee grinder, or blender, or food processor. If you have a choice, select the instrument with the sharpest blades to make the breaking up of the sugar easier and more uniform.
Avoid Using Declumped Sugar in Recipes
While the clumping of sugar due to condensation does not affect it chemically or reduce its sweetness, it may not be the best ingredient for delicate baking. That’s because even after processing the sugar to remove the clumps, the resulting sugar crystals will unlikely be the same size and could result in an uneven distribution of ingredients in your recipe.
What Is the Best Way to Store Sugar Long Term?
Similarly to salt, sugar has a reputation for having an indefinite shelf-life, and rightfully so. If stored correctly, sugar will last a lifetime. The most common natural sugars that are stored long term are produced either from sugarcane (sucrose), corn (dextrose), or honey (fructose).
Each of these sugars is processed and refined, and sometimes stabilizing compounds, like phosphorus, are added. These manufacturing methods result in a highly stable compound with a long shelf life, normally a couple of years. However, after a couple of years, its likely that your sugar is still viable, it just may have lost some of its initial sweetness.
Keeping sugar away from heat and moisture are paramount to maintaining its pristine condition. Akin to most dry products, the components needed for successful long-term storage are maintaining a dry, cool environment. A major element of storing sugar, though, is the container itself.
Most sugar commercially sold is packaged in either paper or in plastic – neither are suitable for long-term storage. Paper is easily torn, and bugs will be attracted to the sugar and eat through this feeble barrier easily. The other common commercial packaging is plastic, which also can be penetrated by bugs and rodents. Additionally, the incidence of moisture content condensing is far greater in plastic than paper.
The best solution to protect your sugar against creatures, moisture, and odors is to place it in an airtight jar or container, like these found on Amazon. Following which, store the container in a cupboard away from appliances like the cooker, microwave or in the path of a steaming kettle. This will keep the sugar in pristine condition for years.
Sugar does not really go bad, it just can change its state via moisture or extreme heat. In fact, sugar is a preservative and the ingredient that makes jams and jellies last longer. However, you still want to store it properly.
My advice is that, after buying your sugar, immediately transfer it to an airtight container. Keep the container cool and away from sunlight. And, if you live in a hot, and/or high humidity atmosphere, adding a moisture absorber (like silica gel) to your sugar will assist in the prevention of clumping.
If you want to store sugar for survival or emergency storage you can lengthen the shelf life by using my “overkill” storage method. You may need a few things to do this.
- 5-Gallon Gasket Sealed Plastic Buckets– The perfect size for my long-term storage needs.
- 5-Gallon Mylar Storage Bags– Fill these bags, seal, then put in the bucket for ultra long-term storage.
- Mylar Heat Sealer– Bag sealing option #1.
- Large Vacuum Sealed Bags– For a vacuum-sealed alternative.
- Portion-Sized Mylar Bags (Ziplockable)
- Vacuum Sealer– Bag sealing option #2.
- Airtight Storage Containers– For short or mid-term use.
- Oxygen Absorbers– These help keep the moisture content down.
- Storage Labels– Logging the date and contents is important.
To learn about how to do this, check out my article on Storing Rice and Beans for the Long Term, which covers a sound methodology that can apply to almost any dry food.
Do artificial sweeteners expire? Artificial sweeteners are chemically different from natural sugars, like sucrose and glucose. Instead of comprising solely of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, artificial sweeteners also include nitrogen, potassium, or chlorine. These alterations may vastly intensify the sweetness of the product, but they do not result in a degradable compound. If stored in a cool, dry environment, and away from bugs, artificial sweetness will last decades.
Can bacteria grow in sugar? Sugars are highly hygroscopic, meaning they absorb water readily from their surroundings. Bacteria are sucked dry by sugar, killing them on contact. Therefore, bacteria do not grow on sugar. This is why dry sugar and honey can last forever if stored properly.
What happens if I heat syrup? Syrup, or liquid sugar, is in its most basic form, a sugar that has been dissolved in boiling water. If you heat syrup, evaporation will take place. This is when water from the syrup turns into its gaseous form and is wicked into the air. The effect on the syrup is a thicker product due to the reduction in water content.