I was the unlucky recipient of a bag of sugar from the very bottom of a pallet that must have been exposed to moisture of some sort. 90% of the sugar inside was fine but along the very bottom of the bag were areas where the sugar had crystallized into huge, rock-hard clumps. I inspected the sugar and found it to be clean and bright white so I decided to do an experiment to see if I could salvage it. Knowing that people sometimes accidentally place an oxygen absorber inside their sugar can/mylar bag and it turns hard just like this, I thought this might be a useful tutorial for anyone who has the misfortune of coming across a seemingly-unusable chunk of sugar.
Do not place the sugar in your KitchenAid thinking that will break it up. The mixer will throw the chunk right back out at you and nearly break the stand lock in the process. (I tried it!!! Sorry, no pictures…it would have been fun to have seen the look on my face though!)
Opt for a good, old-fashioned mortar and pestle. I ADORE my cast iron one. I got it as a gift but Amazon has some similar styles (mine is size large). It has already proven a useful tool for many of my kitchen escapades.
Anyways, I broke the sugar chunks into smaller golf ball-sized chunks by hammering it with my pestle:
Next I began to grind the sugar with the end of the pestle, applying firm pressure and rotating the pestle as I pushed. This is exactly like trying to grind rock candy into a powder…it is deceptively difficult. Each sugar chunk is about the same consistency as compressed sandstone pavers.
After 20 or so minutes of hard grinding, my sugar looked like this:
The little tiny chunks are not soft – they’re still hard enough to chip a tooth on. I ground it up as much as I could and continued with three other batches until all the big sugar chunks were broken up. An hour and a half of hand-grinding later I ended up with 8 cups of sugar that all had these little harder chunks still in it. I decided I’d use this sugar to make homemade brown sugar in the hopes that the molasses would soften up the remaining chunks. *SIGH* It didn’t.
See those little white balls? They’re still rock-hard sugar chunks tumbled smooth by the mixing action of my KitchenAid when I stirred in the molasses. Now I have to pick them out before I can bake with this. GRRRR!
Alright, hindsight 20/20:
I should have run the sugar through my sifter, discarded the chunks (and the sifter if they ended up breaking the thing) and then proceeded with making the brown sugar. I know for next time but since I will be double checking all my bulk bags of sugar from the cannery from now on I’m hoping there won’t be a next time!
If you KNOW you have stored white sugar with an oxygen absorber, this has already happened to you! An oxygen absorber in a store of sugar has the same effect as the moisture shown here. Save yourself the trouble and tend to the issue NOW, while you are able to re-seal the pouches, etc. If you have it in cans and it is only a couple of cans, simply mark them with an X and store more sugar properly. If you think it’s no big deal and that your kids can help you chisel out the sugar later, keep in mind that it took me 90 minutes to grind 8 cups of sugar, which is 11 minutes and 15 seconds per cup. Do you REALLY want to add 10 minutes to the time your children are whining at you for something to eat while society is falling apart? (Although chiseling sugar would be an excellent punishment for any of your post-apocalyptic whiners and fit-throwers.)
It is better to plan today than to regret our own foolishness tomorrow so tackle your bad luck by replacing it with good preps so you can enjoy the peace that comes from being truly prepared!