Most of us have at least one package of flour on our pantry shelf. If you have a stockpile or are considering starting one, you may be wondering: How long does flour stay fresh?
Flour is the powder created by grinding uncooked cereal grains or other roots or seeds. Packages of flour that you purchase in the supermarket generally have a “sell by” or “use by” date, but you may be able to use flour long after those dates. Some of the variables that determine how long flour will last include the type of flour, the container in which it is stored and the environment in which it is stored.
First, here are some general storage tips for flour, no matter what kind it is:
- Store all flour in a cool, dry place to keep it from absorbing moisture.
- You can extend shelf life by storing the package in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
- Store flour in an airtight container, such as a sealed plastic freezer bag, a lidded Mason jar or a Tupperware container.
- If you must keep your flour on the shelf, add a bay leaf to the package as a natural insect repellent.
- Dispose of any flour that has a strong, stale or rancid odor.
- Placing flour in the freezer for 48 hours will kill any insects or their eggs that have infested your flour.
- For extended storage, keep the flour in the freezer, rather than on your pantry shelf.
Now let’s consider the type of flour.
All-purpose flour, the biggest seller at the supermarket, can be stored in its original unopened container placed inside a sealed plastic bag on the pantry shelf for 10 to 15 months. Be sure to keep it in a cool, dry place. For longer storage, place the container in the freezer for up to two years.
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Bread flour, made from high protein wheat, should be stored in an airtight container away from heat and moisture. If stored properly, it will last for up to six months in your pantry and for up to 12 months in the freezer.
Self-rising flour (phosphate flour) can last on the pantry shelf for up to 15 months. If you store it in the freezer, it will last for up to two years.
Instant flour, which is used for gravies, dissolves quickly when it is mixed with water. It will last up to eight months when it is sealed and on the pantry shelf and up to one year when in the freezer.
Cake flour, which can clump when left unopened and untouched and therefore need sifting, can last for two years stored in a dry, cool pantry.
Wheat flour will stay fresh six to eight months in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. If stored properly, it will likely be usable for longer than that.
Nut flours and other alternative flours can last for up to six months in the refrigerator and up to a year if stored in the freezer.
How to Tell if Flour Is Fresh
Use your eyes and your nose to determine if flour is still usable. Flour that has
“gone bad” will be darker in color that it normally is. White four may appear gray, for instance.
Also, look closely for the presence of bugs in the flour. If you see weevils, moths or larvae, the flour is not usable.
If the color is good and you detect no bugs, it is time to use the smell test. Simply put, spoiled flour will smell bad or even rancid. Discard foul-smelling flour immediately.
Here are some other facts about flour:
- The earliest archaeological evidence for flour — wheat seeds crushed between millstones — dates to 6000 B.C.
- The first steam flour mill opened in 1879 in London.
- It was during the Great Depression in the 1930s that some flour manufacturers began enriching their products with iron, thiamine niacin and riboflavin.
- Pillsbury began its annual “bake-off” competition in 1950 to promote sales of its flour.
- Flour dust can be explosive when it is suspended in air.
- Flour that is mixed with equal parts butter and is heated makes a traditional roux, which is used for making sauces.
- “Bleached” flour has been treated chemically to whiten it or to improve its baking qualities.
- “Unbleached” flour is aged and is bleached naturally by the oxygen in the air. Unbleached flour is golden in color and may not have the consistency in baking that bleached flour has.
- Flour is an important ingredient of bread, cookies, cakes, pasta and tortillas.
How do you extend the life of your flour? Share your tips in the section below:
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