There are few things more disheartening than trying to make chocolate chip cookies or banana bread and finding the brown sugar in my pantry a solid rock. I've been there many times. Though there are smart tricks for how to soften brown sugar, I wanted to learn how to prevent it from hardening in the first place. Here's what I found out in my research, including the one trick that works for me.
Why Brown Sugar Hardens
Before figuring out the best way to stop brown sugar from hardening, let's understand why it gets hard in the first place. Brown sugar is white sugar that's been coated with molasses. According to baking expert Rose Levy Beranbaum light brown sugar has about 3.5 percent molasses and dark brown sugar has about 6.5 percent. The molasses gives brown sugar its distinctive color and soft, malleable texture.
When brown sugar is exposed to air, the moisture in the molasses evaporates, and that is what makes brown sugar hard—the sugar crystals stick to each other as the molasses dries out and becomes a solid mass.
How the Experts Recommend Storing Brown Sugar
Writer Sheela Prakash wrote about how to soften brown sugar, but I want to make sure that my brown sugar never hardens to begin with. So how do you prevent it from hardening into a cinderblock of sucrose? Start by storing it properly. The most obvious way to prevent brown sugar from getting hard is by storing it in an air-tight container. You want the container to be on the smaller side, so there's not too much air trapped inside—the shape doesn't really matter as long as it doesn't allow any air to pass through.
The sugar experts at Domino suggest storing brown sugar "in any type of re-sealable, moisture-proof plastic bag." Sugar should be stored in a cool place, but never in the fridge.
The Genius Kitchen Tool That Helps Keep Brown Sugar Soft
I needed to be extra certain that I am never surprised by a hard block of brown sugar. So I invested in a terra cotta brown sugar saver—if you're looking for an adorable option, this Brown Sugar Bear is very popular on Amazon.
This smart kitchen tool is a small disk made of clay that you soak in water for about 15 minutes. Then you place it in your airtight container of brown sugar. The idea is that the moisture from the disk helps keep that molasses moist, preventing the sugar crystals from clumping up. It stays wet enough to prevent the brown sugar from hardening for about six months, which is perfect because as Domino states, "the quality of brown sugar is best when consumed within six months of purchase and opening."
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com.