This month on Kitchen Geekery we're going to learn some surprising facts about brown sugar as well as some kitchentips to keep it from turning into a big brown rock in your cupboard!
Can I let you in on a little secret about brown sugar?
The brown sugar that is sold at most grocery stores as “light,” “golden brown” or “dark,” well… it’s not “natural” or less processed than white sugar. A lot of people believe that brown sugar is less refined. In actual fact, in North America, brown sugar is most often just white sugar mixed with a little molasses (usually about 3 to 6 %).
Why would sugar producers do this?
In general, it’s easier to create uniform-looking food products from batch to batch by stripping them of their color, and then adding back the color in a controlled fashion, achieving the desired hue according to a formula. In this case, the sugar is stripped of its molasses, which is then added back. This way, all batches match, regardless of production date. Brown sugar is still very yummy, but it is refined.
What about muscavado?
If you are looking for a less “processed” option, seek out muscavado which is less refined and contains more of the plant’s nutrients, but brace yourself because it comes with a hefty price tag. Personally, I’m fine with good old brown sugar. Processed or not, it tastes delicious in chocolate chip cookies and scattered over my morning bowl of cereal.
How to soften brown sugar that has dried up into a rock-hard lump?
Easy. First, try to transfer the dried out brown sugar to a sealable, air-tight container. Then:
Option 1 For Softening Brown Sugar:
add to the container of brown sugar a slice of bread (any affordable, grocery store white bread will do!) or a slice of apple, or even a marshmallow or two. The brown sugar will slowly absorb the moisture. Periodically, stir it up, and swap out the bread (or the apple or marshmallow) for a fresh slice. If your brown sugar is very dry, softening it could take days or even a couple weeks.
Option 2 For Softening Brown Sugar:
Those decorative terra cotta disks sold for the exact purpose of keeping brown sugar moist actually do work for this step (available in most kitchenware stores and amazon). Soak the disk in a bowl of water (as per package instructions), then slip it into the sealed container of brown sugar. Again, periodically, you should stir up the brown sugar and you may have to re-moisten the disk every so often, but those disks really do work, and are a reusable option. Like with slices of bread or apple, this method can take a week or more if your brown sugar is very dry.
Option 3 - The Quick Option for Softening Brown Sugar:
If you need soft brown sugar right away: use the microwave! Place the brown sugar you need softened in a microwave-safe bowl and top it with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds at a time, checking the brown sugar and breaking it up when possible. Soon enough, you will have moist brown sugar to work with, and as for the rest of the bag, opt to rehydrate it with the other “slower” methods mentioned above.
Next time you purchase a bag of brown sugar, make sure to transfer it to an air-tight container to avoid it drying out. And, if all else fails and you end up with a kilo block of rock hard brown sugar, turn to one of the methods above and your brown sugar will be back to its scoopable, moist form in no time.
Kitchen Geekery is written by Janice Lawandi. Janice is a PhD-chemist-turned-baker, which is why she loves to use science to understand and solve problems in the kitchen. She is currently working as a recipe tester and writer in Montreal, QC. Visit Janice’s blog, Kitchen Heals Soul, for more baking science and inspiration. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.