Why does putting an apple in your brown sugar keep the sugar soft?

This fall, The Seven-Year-Old and I went apple picking at Radke Orchards in Indiana. While there, I picked up a little paperback book of Old Fashioned Apple Recipes (Bear Wallow Books, 1980) on the principle that there are only so many apple pies one family can be expected to eat. Nestled among the recipes for Apple Corn Bread, Apple Fritters, Apple-Sweet Potato Bakes, and Honey Apple Cake, I found this tip:

“An apple in your brown sugar container will help to keep the sugar moist.”

I was  dubious. After all, I’ve been taken in by these sorts of claims before. Brown Sugar Bears, hermetically sealed containers, slices of bread … none of it works for me. The brown sugar ALWAYS hardens up. Since I’ve given up on spending money and switched to storing my open sugar bags in gallon-sized Ziplocs on the At-Least-This-Will-Keep-the-Mice-Out principle, the hardening usually happens within 24 hours.

Still, I had an apple or two to spare, so I decided to give it a try. Something about plopping the apple directly into the brown sugar seemed a bit unsavory, so I found a gallon-sized Ziploc, dropped an opened bag of brown sugar into it, added one of my less yummy-looking apples, and sealed the whole thing up tight.

Storing an apple with your brown sugar will help keep your sugar soft. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Storing an apple with your brown sugar will help keep your sugar soft. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The next morning, when I pulled it out to make oatmeal, the brown sugar was still soft. Interesting, given my track record, but not yet impressive.

Impressive is pulling the Ziploc out all these weeks later and finding the brown sugar still as soft as the day I first stored it.  Impressive is the fact that I now expect to find soft, pliable brown sugar in my pantry.

So why does putting an apple in the bag work when all those commercial approaches have failed?

Apparently, the brown sugar sucks up the moisture from the apple, and that added moisture keeps the sugar soft. This article says you can just use apple slices, but by the time I found it, I had already plopped an entire apple into the bag. Two months later, the apple is still fine, and the brown sugar still fresh. I’m not entirely sure that a mere slice would have lasted this long.

My old-fashioned cookbook also claims that storing an apple with your potatoes will help keep them from sprouting. I am so trying that.

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About Shala Howell

Writer of things ranging from optical network switching white papers to genetic testing patient education materials to historical fiction set in an 1880s asylum. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), my writerly self can be found blogging about life with a very curious Nine-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, or musing about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.wordpress.com.
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