When baking bread, knowing how to store surplus flour is a good thing. Whether you bake a loaf of bread daily or only when the mood strikes, you want to keep the flour as fresh as possible. Knowing how to do that makes the baking process, as well as the final result, that much better.
Refined flours, like all-purpose and bread flours, should be stored in an airtight container. The container should keep moisture, bugs, and air out. A plastic or glass dry storage container with a solid seal or a Ziploc bag works.
For the short term,:
storing your flour in a container in a dry, cool, and dark space sustains the shelf-life which is around a year.
For the long term,:
keeping the flour in the freeze extends the self-life to about two years.
Working at the bakery all those years I never gave much thought to storing flour long term. We used to go through it on a weekly basis with fresh flour coming in once or twice a week.
We stored the flour in our basement which kept it cool and dry but honestly it didn’t sit for too long.
Baking bread at home on the other hand does require more attention from the baker and you do need to take into consideration such things as how to take care of your flour.
Should I Store My Flour In The Freezer?
The shelflife of flour refers to the amount of time the flour remains fit to eat or ready for use. Under optimal conditions; cold (no warmer than room temperature), dark and dry space, shelflife is maintained.
To preserve freshness, though, you should consider buying as you need or in smaller quantities rather than in bulk.
While many, may it be a pantry or cabinet can maintain a fairly cool temperature (room temperature ranges from 20 – 25℃) to sustain the recommended shelf life of your flour, freezing is a great option. If you live in a warmer climate, or the temperature fluctuates, freezing is ideal. As long as the receptacle used, whether a container or a resealable plastic bag, has as much air out of it as possible, the shelf life of refined flour can be extended up to two years.
Taking care not to allow moisture, and reduce the amount of air in the container is best. As the amount depletes, simply downsize the container to ensure as little air as possible gets into the flour. If you have limited freezer space, a resealable plastic bag can help maximize space in the freezer. If the freezer is so full you cannot squeeze even one more thing in there, than the fridge is an easy alternative.
If you are planning to freeze your flour, it might be a good idea to label with the date stored or the date it will last until. This will help to track how long it’s been stored and avoid keeping flour longer than you should. This is a good idea even if you aren’t planning on storing it for the long term.
What Is the Best Way to Store your Flour?
So you bought a massive bag of flour, or there was a great deal on several smaller bags of flour, or for whatever reason, you find yourself with an abundance of flour, now what? Well, first thing is first, you should transfer the flour into something that can ensure moisture, air, and bugs don’t have access. If the flour you purchased comes in a paper bag, it should be transferred.
You may want to consider the following:
- The Lid – how the lid closes, whether latching, sealing, or even with a top-button for easy pouring.
- The size and shape of the container – do you want tall and narrow? Or would stackable be best, and how much will you be storing?
- The material – there are a lot of options here; glass, acrylic, and plastic are best because they are often clear, making it easier to see if and when you are running low on flour.
- Pantry or freezer space – how much and what kind of space you have, whether it’s shelving or drawers.
Lastly, resealable bags with a zipper seal or a velcro are a great short-term option and easily fit in even the most awkward spaces. Remember to vacuum seal the bag so that the flour isn’t exposed to air.
Creative Uses For Flour Gone Bad
If you can smell your flour, then it’s probably gone bad. Unspoiled flour has hardly any odor, a mild nutty smell at most. If there is an odor, it’s because the oils in the flour have oxidized. Flour that has gone bad, or rancid, will smell musty or sour sometimes described as rubbery or reminiscent of playdough.
Now, while you can’t quite use rancid flour for baking (duh, it’d taste awful), and if it’s just smelly and not moldy, you don’t necessarily need to throw it out here are just a few things you can do with post-shelf life flour you can try:
- Dusting flour in your garden and on your plants to keep insects, like grasshoppers, from chowing down
- Paper mache glue – equal parts of water and flour and get creative!
- Another creative option – playdough, either as a fun sensory activity for the kids or to use as clay for ornaments, beads, etc. can be baked at a low temperature for 30min or so and then painted once cooled.
- If you’ve got a composter, into the compost it goes
- Where there are ants, the flour will act as a barrier they won’t cross. Track where they are coming in and sprinkle.
So, if you cringe at the idea of food waste and tossing flour, you can feel at ease knowing that even rancid flour has a use.
You grab your flour, you open it up and you smell something. It’s well before the best-by date, it isn’t a rancid sour smell, but there is a mustiness to it. Perhaps there is even some discoloration, or even more obvious – there is mold growing on it. Throw it out.
Moldy flour, when consumed, can be dangerous. If it happens not to be the dangerous kind of mold, then it’s probably going to taste horrible.
Dangerous molds produce harmful toxic compounds known as mycotoxins. These toxins can cause short-term side effects such as diarrhea and vomiting, or have more harmful long-term effects compromising the immune system and some cancers.
It’s very important to make sure your flour is stored in a dry space. To check your flour for any foul-smelling odors, and if you suspect even a small trace of mold it isn’t worth the risk and should be tossed.
How To Avoid flour bugs?
Often found in paper bags, but not necessarily limited to them – flour bugs. Tiny little brown bugs, that lay their eggs in the flour and then feed off of it. You may have even noticed them in other grains. It’s usually a weevil, but if not a weevil, it’s most likely some form of a beetle.
Flour bugs, or weevils, can get in a bag of flour through the various stages of production, from the mill right to the grocery store shelf and even on your pantry shelf. The female lays her eggs right in the flour, or even in the lining of the bag. The eggs are small enough that you won’t know you have a bug infestation until you see actual movement.
One option is to use a fine sieve and sift the flour for any bugs, and then freeze it to ensure no eggs survive.
Oh, and funnily enough if you are pushing whole grains on your loved ones, you’ll be happy to know that weevils don’t eat them. It’s important to note, though they cannot eat whole grains, they can be found feasting on the dust or broken down bits of whole-grain.
How to Prevent Flour Bug Infestations
- First and foremost (even though it’s been stated several times throughout this article) transferring and then storing your flour in an airtight container, bucket your resealable bag is key. If you think your flour could have unhatched eggs within, or you just don’t even want to take that chance, freezing your flour for a week before using it will prevent any eggs from hatching. As mentioned before, freezing has the bonus of keeping your flour as fresh as possible.
- If you are storing the flour in your cabinet or pantry, then it’s important to make sure the area is clean and dry. A one-part vinegar and three-part water solution in a spray bottle is a harmless and non-toxic way to clean the area. Do this often, and make sure to clean the storage container in between re-stocking.
- You can try keeping an open jar of natural pest deterrents in the cabinet, such as bay leaves or cinnamon both of which are non-toxic.
Not All Flours Has The Same Shelf Life
Bear in mind that most of the above are referring specifically to refined flour, like all-purpose or bread flour. Refined flour refers to the process of stripping the grain of the bran and germ, with only the starch laden endosperm remaining. Whole grain flours, such as whole wheat, barley, spelt, etc., on the other hand, contain the three parts.
Whole grain flours have a shorter shelf life since the bran and the germ have a high concentration of oils. Storing in a cool, dry, and dark pantry or cabinet, will keep most whole grain flours between 2 and 6 months in an airtight container. If you want to extend the shelflife, storing the whole grain flour in an airtight container in the freezer will prevent the oils in the flour from oxidizing when exposed to air, thereby avoiding spoilage and rancid flour. Here is a handy table, listing a few commonly used whole grain flours and their respective shelf life.
|Whole Wheat||1 – 3 months||6 – 12 months|
|Barley||2 – 3 months||6 months|
|Rye||4 – 6 months||6 – 12 months|
|Spelt||Up to 4 months||6 months|
|Oat||2 months||4 months|
|Millet||2 months||6 months|
Just like refined flours, whole grain flours should be stored in airtight containers. Freeze them, label them, use them as quickly as you can to ensure you have the tastiest and freshest final product you can have.
What to Avoid When Storing Flour
We are going to keep this short and sweet, here is what to avoid:
- Direct sunlight – If your pantry is exposed to sunlight, then you should consider an opaque storage container, best case scenario it has a clear strip so you are able to monitor your quantity. Flour needs to be kept in a dark place, so ideally it should be in a closed cabinet, pantry, or freezer/fridge.
- Avoid storing your flour in a warm spot, keeping it cool is key.
- Don’t overbuy – the quicker you use it, the fresher it stays.
- No water, fewer problems – keeping it as dry as possible, means less likelihood of mold
- Keep as much air out
- Don’t keep it in the bag you bought it in, transfer to an airtight container
Bearing this in mind, flour storage is fairly simple and straightforward.
All in all, the takeaway here is that ideally, you should buy flour only in quantities that you plan on using in the short-term. If you are unable to use it all quickly, or couldn’t pass up a great deal and have a lot of surpluses, then to make sure you transfer it to an airtight storage container. From there it can be stored at room temperature or lower for its respective shelf-life, or it can be stored in the freezer to extend it up to a year or two depending on the type of flour. It’s important to keep the storage area clean and to pay attention to your flour if you happen not to have used it in a long time – look either for movement from small pests, discoloration, and strong sour or musty smell.