How to Store Flour So It Stays Fresh
Flour has always been essential to a home cook's baking pantry. But now, with everyone in the world baking more than ever and making their own sourdough starters, flour has become a hot commodity. So hot, in fact, that like many household supplies, acquiring it is at something of a premium.
So when you get your hands on some of this very precious commodity, you want to be sure you know how to store flour properly.
Flour is a pantry staple that, unless you go through it at a very rapid rate, is at risk for both rancidity and vermin, neither of which are going to make your bread very tasty. So storing flour properly is essential. And all you need to remember are the three commandments of storing flour.
Related: Are You Baking With the Right Flour?
1. Flour storage shall be cold.
Preventing flour from going bad means keeping the natural oils in the product as cool as possible. Just like your bottle of pressed oil in the pantry can suddenly go rancid, the oils in the flour can, too
If you have room in your freezer, it can be the best place to store flour, since it will prevent any rancidity and a mere four days in the freezer will also kill any possible pests. If you normally don't do a lot of baking, or if you have access to a large chest freezer, this is a great way to go.
The fridge is a second great place, but unless you have an extra bonus fridge in your garage or basement, usually that space is at a premium. So if you have loaded in a ton of flour to get you through the current predicament, you'll need to find a place that is naturally cool, like a cellar, basement, garage, or other place in your home that stays a bit cooler. If where you are is currently cold enough to need your heat on, consider closing the heating vents in the room where you are storing your flour.
You can leave your flour in its original bag, but for long-term storage, it's best to move it to an air-tight container that can protect against smells (flour will absorb odors) and liquids from the freezer walls. We like this OXO Pop 4.3-quart container. The square sides make storing in your freezer easier, and the large size is big enough for a five-pound bag of flour.
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Related: How to Measure Flour Correctly
2. Flour storage shall be dark.
The second enemy of flour storage is light — both because it generates heat, (see: Commandment 1), and because light itself can encourage oxidation, which is the enemy of fresh flour. Obviously if you are storing in the freezer or fridge, dark is automatic.
If you don't have space in your fridge or freezer, think about storing in an opaque container of some sort. If you have a large amount of flour, consider storing the bags inside a cooler or thermal bag in the coolest spot in your house. Or look for a stonewear flour canister like this 16-cup food storage container. It's large enough to hold most flour from a five-pound bag, but it's attractive at the same time.
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3. Flour storage shall be airtight.
This is absolutely key, since the flour spoilage that you are trying to avoid comes from oxygen. No air, slower spoilage. Yes, those paper bags that the flour comes in are fine for the store, but once you get them home, even if you leave them unopened, you are in a race against time. At a minimum, put the whole bag into a three-gallon zip-top plastic bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing and storing in your cool, dark location.
If you are storing a lot and don't need access to it all right away, you can also use a vacuum sealer and large vacuum bags to preserve whole unopened bags of flour, or even portions of bags, until you need them.
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My personal storage routine for all flours goes a little bit like this: I buy flour and immediately put in the freezer for four days to kill off any possible pest activity. Once frozen, I transfer whatever I will need for one to two weeks of baking to the easy-access canisters in my kitchen. I store the rest of the flour in a tightly-lidded new container, which I label with the date I opened the flour. I put these containers in coolers for longer-term storage. I usually try not to buy more flours than I think I will use in a four- to eight-week span, and I try not to overbuy flours that are specialty, since I will go through them slower.
How long can you keep flour?
Any white flour, like all-purpose or self-rising flours, stored at room temperature should be discarded after three months; if stored at a cooler house temp, it can last six months. In a fridge, the flour has one year, and in the freezer, it has two.
Whole-wheat or whole-grain flours have more of the natural oils that can spoil, so discard after one month at regular room temp, three months at cooler house temp, six months in fridge, or one year in the freezer.
How do I know if flour is spoiled?
Always trust your senses. If the flour smells "off," discard it. It won't make you sick if you bake with it, but it won't be super delicious. If you see any bugs or evidence of pests, toss it.