Last Updated on February 15, 2023
Does cotton candy expire? Today, we will not only answer this question but look at the best ways to extend its shelf life considerably!
By understanding how cotton candy works and its structure, you will better understand how you should properly store it. And, it will also be a lot easier to navigate how to prevent it from going bad. So, let’s jump right in.
Does Cotton Candy Expire: The Importance Of Understanding What Affects Cotton Candy
You likely know what cotton candy is. Most people have even had it at carnivals, circuses, or local town fairs. But, do you actually know what it is made from?
Sure, everybody knows cotton candy is just sugar. But what creates this fluffy soft texture?
By understanding what cotton candy is and how its texture is formed, you will better understand what could potentially ruin it and what makes it go bad. Ultimately, this guide will help you learn how long does cotton candy last and how to extend its shelf life.
What Exactly is Cotton Candy?
Okay so now that we have all the gloomy doomy things out of the way, let’s have a look at exactly what cotton candy is made of and how it’s made.
Cotton candy, also known as fairy floss or candy floss, is basically a form of spun sugar. But, unlike using the hand-made technique, these strands are extremely thin. This is what gives cotton candy clusters that cloud-like texture and virtually airy appearance.
So, how do you get the strands to be as fine as they need to be? The only real way to create proper cotton candy is by using a cotton candy maker. This machine melts the sugar to become a very runny thin liquid syrup.
Then, using centrifugal force, it spins the syrup through tiny holes. This causes it to cool almost instantly and solidify into thin strands.
These strands are shaped around a stick to form a beautiful ball of flossed candy.
What affects spun sugar?
Now, as you probably also know, cotton candy doesn’t last forever. But what exactly causes it to melt?
Moisture. Yes, folks, it is as simple as that! All sugar works, and naturally including finely spun sugar, is extremely susceptible to moisture in the air. This is why cotton candy melts so quickly at fairs. The heat from all the people and rides makes the air quite humid and damp. Ultimately, this causes the sugar to melt and your candy to almost completely disappear.
But of course, moisture isn’t only in the air! If you store a packet of cotton candy close to a heat source or in direct sunlight, condensation could form inside the package. This condensation, aka water droplets, will melt the cotton candy instantly, leaving you only with a sticky gooey clump of sugar.
And then, just if you don’t already get it if your cotton candy falls into or touches liquid in any other way (rain drops or placed into a damp bowl) it will melt away.
Again, any form of moisture causes cotton candy to melt.
Does Cotton Candy Expire?
So, does cotton candy expire? Well, how long is a piece of string? Some too many possible variables and factors directly affect the shelf life of cotton candy.
Considering cotton candy is basically just sugar, its shelf life is almost never-ending. But, natural elements will cause it to melt long before the cotton candy actually ruins or spoils.
So, cotton candy can last far longer than you will need it to. But, only if it is stored in the proper ways.
How To Properly Store Cotton Candy
Below we have listed 3 methods you can use that will help you extend the shelf life of your cotton candy. Now, the answer to how long cotton candy last can be inevitable!
Method 1: Plastic bag
If you can close it, you can use it. Any type of resealable airtight bag will work just fine as a storage container for cotton candy. It will be able to keep the moisture out while sealing in the flavor and freshness of this treat.
However, the biggest downside to this type of container is that they quickly cause condensation. So, when storing cotton candy in a plastic bag, always keep it in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Do not store it in the fridge, close to any heat sources, or close to air vents.
Method 2: Airtight container
Many cotton candy products today are sold in some type of solid airtight container. These contain naturally keep the moisture out, but they also help protect the delicate sugar strands from being crushed or damaged.
This is one of the best techniques to use and has many benefits. And, it isn’t as likely to get condensation inside. But, you still need to store it in a cool dry place.
Method 3: Mylar bag
This technique is excessive, but it will keep your cotton candy dry for years! These bags can protect the floss from sunlight, moisture, and oxygen in general.
But, they do cost more than plastic bags and containers, and again, they feel a little excessive.
We only recommend using Mylar bags if you live in a very humid area.
How Long Does Cotton Candy Last Once Opened?
Once you open a bag of cotton candy, it will shorten how long it will stay fresh. Once opened, a bag of cotton candy will typically only last a few days.
Unopened, cotton candy can last for three to five weeks. Be sure to store it in a cool, dry location away from heat, such as a pantry. Heat and humidity will have a detrimental effect on cotton candy.
Freshly spun cotton candy is best enjoyed on the same day. However, store-bought bags or containers of cotton candy can last longer both opened and unopened.
Once you open your cotton candy, be sure to store it in an airtight container, whether that is the one it came in or Tupperware or a Ziploc bag. It is important to keep it properly stored for the cotton candy to maintain its freshness.
Why Does Cotton Candy Get Hard?
When not stored in an airtight container, cotton candy can go hard within a few hours. The reason that cotton candy gets hard is due to a process known as recrystallization.
In cotton candy, the sugar molecules are tightly packed together. However, the water evaporates and the sugar molecules will move freely upon being heated.
The process of recrystallization occurs when the temperature falls back to a certain point. While cotton candy starts light and fluffy after making it, freshly made cotton candy will harden quickly if not eaten or properly stored.
Cotton candy can also harden in the process of dehydration synthesis. This is when two glucose sugars join together without any water involved.
How Long Does Cotton Candy Stay Fresh?
Fresh cotton candy will only stay fresh for a couple of hours. However, store-bought cotton candy can last for three to five weeks in a sealed container. Once opened, storebought candy will continue to stay fresh for a few days when properly stored.
Cotton candy will begin to harden and dry out if it is not properly stored. If it is left exposed to air for more than 30 minutes it will begin to melt.
Cotton candy struggles to stay fresh in warm, humid climates. If the weather is hot and humid, your cotton candy will only stay fresh for a few minutes. If it is raining outside, your cotton candy will not be able to last.
Can You Eat Hard Cotton Candy?
While you can eat hard cotton candy, it will not be as enjoyable to eat. Cotton candy is meant to be sweet, light, and fluffy. If you eat it when it has become hard, you won’t be able to properly enjoy it.
In most cases, hard cotton candy is still safe to eat, it will just not be as enjoyable. Since its primary ingredient is sugar, it can be safe to eat for a long time. However, that doesn’t mean that it will hold the famous consistency cotton candy is famous for.
If your cotton candy is really hard, be careful, as you don’t want to chip a tooth. At this point, it is just generally a good idea not to eat it.
Does Cotton Candy Expire: How to Tell When Cotton Candy Has Gone Bad
As we have mentioned, it is far more likely that your cotton candy will become melted before it goes bad or off.
When cotton candy starts melting, you can often see droplets forming on the surface of the spun sugar. this is quickly followed by literal melting pieces of sugar. Eventually, all that you are left with is a clump of hard sugar.
If your cotton candy manages to survive, it can still eventually go bad. Mold growth is probably the only sign of this candy going off. Mold can easily grow in the right environment. The sugar provides ample food, so all they need is oxygen, warmth, and moisture.
But again, the cotton candy will likely melt away before most molds can grow.
How can you tell if cotton candy is terrible?
Cotton candy is bad quality if it is chunky and has a bunch of sugar clumps in it. Furthermore, it has gone bad when the color bleeds and the sugar strands start melting. Then, if you ever see mold growing on cotton candy, you know it has gone really bad.
How do you increase the shelf life of cotton candy?
The best way to increase the shelf life of cotton candy is by keeping it away from heat and moisture. You can do this by storing it in an airtight bag or container. And, you should also keep it away from heat sources, direct sunlight, and humidity.
How long does cotton candy last on a cake?
Cotton candy won't last long on a cake. It can range from 10 minutes to 2 hours. It all depends on external factors. How humid or moist is the air? Does the cotton candy touch the moist frosting or cake surface? These are the two most common causes of the cotton candy melting on top of a cake.
Can I eat expired cotton candy?
Cotton candy doesn't ever really expire. Even if the date on the package has gone by, always check for mold. Other than that, cotton candy should still be safe to eat. But, it may not be flavorful or have a soft fluffy texture anymore.
Lindy Van Schalkwyk is a culinary specialist with a background in Advanced Cooking, Advanced Pâtisserie, Media Communications and Nutrition. She has gained invaluable experience in the culinary industry having worked in some of the top restaurants in Africa in 2016 and 2017. Her expertise in nutrition has enabled her to develop recipes for special dietary needs. In 2018, Lindy began working in the Food Media industry, focusing on recipe development, recipe writing, food writing and food styling.