A lot has changed in the world of flours since I was a child. The shelves that used to hold just all-purpose, bread, and cake flour are now groaning with flours milled from seeds, nuts, and grains. What's the best way to store all these flours, and how long do they last?
We spoke to Susan Reid of King Arthur Flour and Cassidy Stockton of Bob's Red Mill, and they helped us compile this guide on the different categories of flours, where to store them, and their shelf lives.
Refined flours are made by removing the germ and bran from wheat before crushing, resulting in flours that do not have much oil and thus have a longer shelf life.
- Types: All-purpose, self-rising, bread, pastry
- Storage: A cool and dry place.
- Shelf Life: 1 to 2 years
- Is It Still Good? "Refined flour will take a very long time to go rancid, but will smell sour if it has turned," says Stockton.
Whole Grain Flours
"Whole grain flours all contain the germ from the seed, which has all kinds of good things in it nutrient-wise, but suspended in oil. Oil, once it’s exposed to air, tends to oxidize, and when that happens it becomes rancid," says Reid.
- Types: Wheat, spelt, teff, quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley, ancient grains, buckwheat, oat flour, medium or dark (pumpernickel) rye
- Storage: Freezing will slow down the oxidation, but if the freezer is jam-packed, the refrigerator is better than nothing.
- Shelf Life: A few months.
- Is It Still Good? "Your nose is your best guide. If a flour smells like burnt rubber or pencil erasers, it’s over the hill and should be put out on the ground to kill weeds in the garden or into the compost heap," says Reid.
Nut and Alternative Flours
Like whole grain flours, nut and these alternative flours have high levels of oils, making them more subject to oxidation and rancidity.
- Types: Nut meals and flours (such as almond or hazelnut), coconut flour, wheat germ, rice bran, flaxseed meal, hemp seeds
- Storage: Refrigerator or freezer, preferably the freezer.
- Shelf Life: 6 months in the refrigerator, 12 months in the freezer
- Is It Still Good? The flour should smell sweet and nutty. If it tastes bitter, it's gone bad.
Other Storage Tips
- Buy Only What You Need: If you don't use a particular type of flour very often, buy only what you need from the bulk bin - natural food stores usually have a wide selection. This prevents waste and storage issues if you don't have a lot of space.
- Keep It Airtight: "Anything that is airtight and will prevent bug infestation will work well. Many of us at Bob’s Red Mill use large mason jars, but plastic containers will also work well," says Stockton.
Bonus Tip! "Square containers take up 25% less space than round ones, so if you wish your freezer was 25% bigger, start saving those square plastic containers from your last takeout meal!" says Reid.