Bags of flour are a staple in most home pantries and an essential ingredient in countless baked goods. While a package of flour can last for decades in its unopened, unbroken original packaging, once you’ve opened the bag and exposed the flour to air and moisture, it is subject to a rapid rate of deterioration. In fact, even if you’ve kept your flour sealed tight, it has a shelf-life of just one year. Luckily, it’s easy to tell if your flour has gone bad.
There are some visual clues that give away a spoiled batch of flour, sure, but the biggest indicator by far is its smell. If your flour smells off (think mildewy), it’s time to retire it and purchase a fresh bag. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to keep your flour fresh longer so you don’t have to throw out an entire bag after only a few months.
How Long Does Flour Last?
There are variations in the amount of time that each type of flour can be stored for. Because it is such a highly processed and refined grain, all-purpose white flour has a shelf life that is significantly longer than that of any other type of flour.
The germ, the bran, and the endosperm are the three primary components that make up a single grain of wheat. Only the endosperm is left behind after the germ and bran have been removed from the grain in the process of making white flour. This portion of the wheat is extremely dry and offers very little in the way of nutritional value.
Because there are fewer nutrients and minerals, there are fewer components of the flour that will deteriorate. Because of this, white flour has the potential to remain on the shelf for the longest amount of time (and also why it is considered to be one of the least beneficial flours health wise).
When stored in a pantry for one year, all-purpose flour has a shelf life of one year, but when refrigerated for up to two years, its shelf life doubles.
The wheat’s shelf life drastically decreases as soon as the germ and bran are allowed to remain on the grain. Wheat that has undergone less processing will lose its fat and fiber, in addition to many of the other vitamins and minerals, if it is stored on a shelf for an excessive amount of time.
The shelf life of whole wheat flour is only one to three months, which is a significant reduction in time when compared to the shelf life of white flour.
The presence of numerous vitamins and minerals in the components of alternative flours means that they have the potential to deteriorate over time. This is another reason why alternative flours have shorter shelf lives.
When stored in a pantry for the appropriate amount of time, nut flours, coconut flour, buckwheat flour, and oat flour all have a shelf life of approximately three months. If you put flour in the refrigerator and seal it in an airtight container, you can extend its shelf life by twice as much as it would be otherwise.
How to Determine If Flour Has Gone Bad
The rancidification of the fats and oils contained within the flour is one of the ways in which your flour can become spoiled. This indicates that the fats and oils have reached their expiration date and should no longer be consumed.
When this takes place, there are a number of telltale signs that the flour has gone bad, which you can use to determine this.
The smell is the primary warning sign that rancid flour is present. When flour has gone bad, you can tell because it will smell musty or sour. In most cases, flour has either no discernible odor at all or a very faint aroma of nuts.
On the other hand, rancid flour will have a very pungent odor, which has been likened to the smell of rubber or to that of play dough.
If, upon opening the jar containing your flour, you notice an unpleasant odor almost immediately, you can assume that the flour has gone bad.
How to Recognize and Deal with Flour Beetles
Be on the lookout for flour beetles, also referred to as weevils, in addition to the oils in the flour itself going rancid and causing spoilage.
These are the very small bugs that can be found living inside flour and laying their eggs among the grains. The gees then open up, and the young weevils will eat the flour with great pleasure until they have reached their full size, at which point they will begin the life cycle all over again.
If there are weevils in your flour, you will most likely notice movement as soon as you scoop into the flour because they are very active. Because they have a propensity to burrow into the flour, it is possible that they will not be immediately visible on the surface of the flour; therefore, you will need to move the flour around in order to see them.
Weevils, in and of themselves, pose no health risk to humans if they are accidentally consumed; however, no one wants other bugs in their food. Therefore, if your flour exhibits any signs of weevils, the best course of action is to dispose of the flour (however some people recommend just sifting the bugs out in order to keep the flour).
If you want to avoid having problems with weevils, you should keep your flour stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
What Would Happen if You Ate Stale Flour?
If you had reason to believe that your flour was spoiled but continued to use it anyway, what might really happen? What exactly are the negative effects that coming into contact with bad flour can have?
Consuming stale flour can actually be quite hazardous to your health. Mycotoxins can begin to form in stale flour because of the presence of mold. Consuming an excessive amount of mycotoxins can lead to long-term health problems such as cancer, kidney damage, and reproductive disorders; however, this is perfectly fine in the short term.
Although you would have to consume a significant quantity of contaminated flour before experiencing any of these negative effects, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than regret later. When in doubt about the quality of the flour you have on hand, the safest course of action is to steer clear of using stale flour and instead purchase brand-new, freshly milled flour.
Consuming flour that had weevils in it is not going to harm you in any way, as I mentioned earlier. These insects are harmless and won’t have any impact on your health other than the fact that they have a bad taste in your mouth. In the oven, they will perish instantly, and it’s possible that you won’t even notice that they were there.
To reiterate, no one wants to consume something that has been tainted by the presence of insects.
Using Stale Flour in Baking
If you accidentally bake with stale flour once or twice, you probably won’t experience any adverse effects on your health; however, the quality of the food you produce will almost certainly suffer. The flavor of your food will become sour or musty if you use flour that has gone bad.
It won’t smell or taste fresh, even though the food you made is fresh, because you cooked it. The inferior flour will impart its flavor directly onto whatever it is that you are preparing.
In addition, the leavener in the mixture may have gone bad, which is another possibility if you are using self-leavending flour in the recipe. Because the flour has been sitting around for too long, whatever it is that you are attempting to leaven will not rise as it should.
How to Tell if Your Flour is Bad
Here are a few pointers to help you determine whether or not the flour you have on hand has actually become stale. You should already be familiar with the various ways in which flour can become stale as well as the consequences of making use of stale flour.
1 – Check the Date
Checking the use-by date printed on the bag of flour is the easiest and quickest way to determine whether or not the flour has spoiled. This date is printed on all bags of flour sold in the United States.
Yes! The majority of bags of flour will actually have a date of expiration printed on them, which will provide information regarding how long the flour should remain usable. These dates are typically approximations that are based on the assumption that the flour was stored in a dry and cool location.
This does not have to be a refrigerator, but it should be kept in a cool, dry place that does not have a lot of humidity.
In order to make use of the date on the bag of flour’s packaging as a gauge of the product’s freshness, you will, of course, need to keep the bag on hand or make a note of the date on the packaging before you dispose of it.
2 – Check the Color
There should never be any change in the color of flour. If you use all-purpose white flour, the finished product ought to be perfectly white and airy.
The color of flour made from whole wheat should always be a tannish brown. An almond flour should always be the color of blanched almonds, which is an off-white.
It is a sign that your flour has gone bad if the color of the flour changes into something other than its original state. If wheat flour has a yellowish hue, this could indicate that undesirable oil has leaked out of the grains. If the color of your corn flour is more blue than yellow, it may already have mold growing on it.
A flour that has become discolored is not good flour!
3. Give It Some Nose Time
If you just smell the flour, you’ll be able to tell if it’s spoiled or not. In point of fact, if the flour is spoiled, the moment you open the bag or container it will likely be accompanied by a musty and sour odor, which is a clear indication that the flour is spoiled.
In the event that you don’t detect any odors, move in a little bit closer to the flour and give it a good whiff. In the event that you do not detect any odors, it is likely that the flour is ready to be used. It is impossible to ignore the rancid smell of the flour.
How to Store Flour to last longer
Even though it is simple to keep flour in the bag it came in by simply rolling the top of the bag over and storing it in the pantry, this strategy is really only effective if you use your flour on a regular basis.
If you have a habit of letting a bag of flour sit around for a few months at a time, you should probably think about switching to a better storage method. To begin, place the flour in a container that will keep out air. The best option is to use a container made of plastic or glass that has a lid that can be securely fastened. After that, put the container of flour in the refrigerator.
The shelf life of the flour will be extended by two times if it is stored in a cool location, which will also keep any oils from going rancid.
In addition to this, weevils are unable to live in a refrigerator, which means that there will be no bugs in your flour. A significantly improved method of storing your flour that will lengthen its shelf life.
If you’ve got a large container of whole-wheat flour that’s already opened, there are a few tricks you can employ to keep it fresh longer.
First, take a large Ziploc bag, fill it halfway with the flour, and seal it so no air is escaping. Place the bag in the original container with the rest of the flour and close the lid. This will trap the freshness inside and create an oxygen-free environment. Repeat this procedure for each half-full bag of flour in your container.
Alternatively, you can transfer all of your opened flour to a large sealed jar or plastic container. This will allow you to measure directly from the jar when you’re ready to bake, and it will keep your flour fresh for up to six months. If you open up a new bag at any point during this time, simply store that bagged flour in the jar alongside its predecessors. When you’re ready to use that new bag of flour, just scoop out what you need and replace the lid to keep freshness inside.
Refresh Your Flour With a Little Bit of Water
If your flour has been sitting in your pantry for longer than six months, you may notice that it has developed a thin white film on the surface. This is called “bloom” and it is caused by the flour’s starch leeching out and attaching to the flour’s outer surface. While this doesn’t affect the quality of your flour when you’re baking, you should remove the bloom before using it.
The easiest way to remove bloomed flour is to stir in a bit of water. Add one to two tablespoons of water and stir briskly until the water begins to incorporate into the flour. As you stir, more starch will leech out of the flour, dissolving in the water and returning to the surface. Continue stirring until all visible traces of white are gone.
If your flour is still in its original package, transfer it to an airtight container after refreshing it with water so that it doesn’t dry out. Even if there aren’t any visible signs that your flour has gone bad, it’s a good idea to refresh and reseal your whole-wheat flour about once every three months or so for best results.
Add an Antioxidant
It’s possible to keep your flour fresh for a couple of months longer by adding vitamin E oil, also known as tocopherol, to it. This highly effective antioxidant helps slow down the oxidation process of the flour and will keep it fresh for up to six months.
You can add vitamin E oil in two ways: either through a liquid form (such as a vitamin E oil supplement) or by crushing up vitamin E pills. You can add either form of the vitamin by shaking it over the flour and sealing it back up in a new air-tight bag. Alternatively, you can add the crushed up pills straight into the flour and mix them with a spoon or spatula. However, this method is not recommended if you are keeping your flour for a long period of time as there is a chance that some of the pills might not dissolve properly.
While it is generally not necessary to add an antioxidant to your flour, it can be beneficial if you are using your flour frequently. Since antioxidants are so effective at slowing down oxidation, they will help give you more time between grocery store trips before you have to replace your flour with a fresh bag.
Store in the Freezer
There’s a simple way to make all-purpose flour last longer—simply store it in the freezer. This is a popular tip for bakers who use large quantities of flour and want to keep it fresh for longer. Freezing flour retards its rate of deterioration. As long as you don’t plan on using the flour within an hour or two, it’s perfectly fine to keep it frozen.
To thaw frozen flour, simply place it in the refrigerator overnight, or until it is soft enough to scoop out of the bag. The edges may have some ice crystals on them, but these will dissolve once you add the flour to your recipe.
However, if you plan on using your flour immediately, you’ll need to transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator at least 24 hours before use. This will help “wake up” the flour so that when you take it out of the freezer and add it to your recipe, you don’t end up with a mess of ice crystals.
Buy a Large Bag of Flour
If you’re someone who bakes frequently, you’ll want to buy a large bag of flour to get the best bang for your buck. But since a large bag will last longer than a small one, your best bet is to purchase the smallest bag possible.
The more flour you have in your pantry, the more oxygen it is exposed to and the more moisture that can potentially build up inside the package. So even if you keep your flour sealed tightly at all times, over time, it is going to go bad.
But in order to get that one-year shelf life out of a large bag of flour, you need to do your part by keeping it out of the light and away from heat. Store it in a dark cupboard or pantry where it will stay cool, rather than on an open shelf or in a cabinet where it is exposed to ambient kitchen temperatures.
Nobody wants to find themselves in the position of having stale flour on hand; however, if your flour has been sitting around for a while, there is a chance that it has gone bad! Now that you’ve read this, you should be able to recognize when flour has gone bad, understand why it has gone bad, and take the appropriate corrective action.
In a nutshell, if the flour is spoiled, you should not use it. You could also just try to make more of an effort to bake more, as the lives of everyone could use more opportunities to consume baked goods.
In conclusion, knowing the signs of bad flour and properly storing it can help you make sure your baking ingredients last as long as possible. Keeping your flour and other baking ingredients fresh is essential for ensuring that your baked goods come out delicious every time. By following these tips, you can ensure that your flour is always fresh and ready to use!