16 Sweet Secrets to Soft Brown Sugar

We were recently shocked to discover that some people actually throw out brown sugar that’s hard and lumpy — a wasteful practice contrary to our mission of helping you save money and keep good stuff out of landfills.  Our discovery was the result of a reader’s comment to our Easy Canister Labels post. The reader asked for ideas concerning her canister that’s allowing brown sugar to harden. Jennifer responded with some ideas on fixing the canister itself. And then we did a little research and came up with sixteen secrets for soft brown sugar. Read on to learn the secrets for yourself.

Softening up the rock-hard stuffbrownsugar

When time is on your side:

1)  Place a piece of pear or apple — even the core — in the airtight sugar container. The fruit won’t affect the flavor of the sugar, but the moisture will soften the lumps. Remove the fruit once the sugar is soft again so it doesn’t get moldy.

2)  Place the brown sugar in an open container, lay foil or plastic wrap on top of the sugar, and lay a moistened cloth or paper towel on top of the foil or plastic wrap. Let it sit for a night or two. When the sugar is soft enough, remove the cloth or paper, and seal the container with an airtight lid.

3)  Or place the hardened sugar in a plastic bag, sprinkle a few drops of water over the sugar, seal, and let it all sit for a couple days. You may have to work at breaking up the lumps and mixing it around a bit more with this method.

4)  Place a slice of fresh bread on top of the brown sugar inside the airtight container. Seal and leave overnight. If the sugar isn’t soft in the morning, let it sit for another day or two.

5)  Take a piece of pottery (from a broken clay pot, for example), and place it in water for about 30 minutes. Dry it off so it isn’t dripping wet, put the clay piece in a container with the sugar, and seal. Check the softening progress after a few days. If desired, leave the piece of pottery in the container for months to keep the sugar soft. Commercial terra cotta sugar discs are also available for sale. Of course, we Savage Sisters have so many pottery pieces already on hand for use in the garden and other projects, it’s doubtful we’d ever pay real money for a sugar disc. But we thought you might like to know about the option.

6)  If you heat your home with a wood-burning stove, place the sugar in an ovenproof dish or pan, cover the sugar with foil or a snug-fitting lid, and set it close enough to the stove to become toasty warm but not hot. We have no idea how long this might take because temperatures vary, but check every so often until the sugar has softened. Again, be careful it doesn’t melt, or you’ll have to leave our web site and Google for recipes using caramel syrup.

When you’re in a hurry:

7)  Use a blender or food processor to break up the brown-sugar chunks. Try a chop or pulse setting.

8)  Zap-it-in-the-microwave-method #1. With the brown sugar in a container and a small bowl of water beside it, microwave for about 1 minute. If it’s still hard, do it again for 30 seconds. Repeat if necessary until the sugar is soft, but be careful it doesn’t melt. Also, use it up right away because microwave-softened sugar hardens as it cools.

9)  Zap-it-in-the-microwave-method #2. Place the brown sugar in a microwave-safe plastic bag. Moisten a square of paper towel with water, wring out the excess, and add it to the bag. Seal. Nuke it for 20 seconds or so. If still not soft, try a few seconds more, repeating until the sugar has softened. Again, be careful not to let it melt, and be sure to use it right away.

10)  No microwave? No problem. Place the brown sugar in the ovenproof dish or pan mentioned in secret # 6, and let it sit in a 250-degree-oven (F.) for about 5 minutes. If it’s not yet soft, continue checking every few minutes until it’s the right consistency. Ditto the warning above about using the sugar before it hardens again. SAFETY ALERT! Sugar gets very hot in the oven.

11)  If you don’t have access to electricity — say you’re camping or haven’t paid the electric bill — just dump the sugar lumps into a heavy plastic bag and securely tie the bag shut. Cover it with something protective, such as an old towel, and lay the entire thing on a large, flat rock or other sturdy surface. Then get a hammer, and smash away to your heart’s content. This will result in usable brown sugar and a release of your frustrations — unless you aren’t careful and smash your thumb in the process, which will result in more frustrations than ever. SAFETY ALERT! Be sure to wear safety goggles when trying this tip.

Keeping it soft after all your hard work

Using major appliances:

12) Store brown sugar in the freezer, and thaw before using.

Methods that don’t require electricity:

13)  When you first open the package, simply empty the brown sugar into an airtight container or zip-top bag, and keep it tightly sealed. My friend Joan has a practical suggestion along this line. “You could tell your readers to buy those nice self-sealing bags of sugar, and then they don’t need any secrets as long as they use it up in a reasonable time,” she said.

14)  But if you do purchase it in a box instead of a sealable bag, try leaving a three-inch-long strip of orange peel in the box at all times to keep the sugar the right consistency.

15)  The ever-popular slice of bread works to keep brown sugar soft too, not just to soften up hard lumps. Some people feel the moisture in the bread keeps the sugar soft longer than using a damp paper towel. In any event, the bread doesn’t spoil as it becomes very dry and hard.

16)  This last tip — another one from Joan — doesn’t really make brown sugar soft; it simply eliminates the need to make it soft. “You can let your kids pick out the hard little lumps and eat those instead of candy,” she said.

Jennifer already tried that when she was little. She still prefers M&M’s.


Our legal department wants us to warn you that eating large quantities of brown sugar can be detrimental to your health. Since sugar consumption is a subject about which the Savage Sisters do not agree, we leave this matter up to the discretion of our intelligent readers.

Written by Fiercely Frugal Savage Sister Diana

© 2009 The Savage Sisters

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