How to store flour

By BBC Maestro

Flour is a store cupboard staple – especially when you’re learning how to bake. But like most food products, it can spoil if you don’t look after it properly. So, with that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about how to store flour.

Does flour go bad?

In a word, yes. While it doesn’t go mouldy like bread or cheese, it still deteriorates in quality over time – meaning that it degrades to such an extent that you probably wouldn’t want to bake with it. 

There are several factors that can affect the quality of your flour, but the most important one is how it’s stored. If flour is exposed to air and moisture, it can attract bacteria, mould and insects.

Baking with flour that’s gone bad is unlikely to cause you any serious harm – but it can damage the quality of your bakes. Flour that’s gone off can have a bad taste, which will come through in your baking. It can also change the texture, making your baked goods lumpy or crumbly.

Flour that isn’t stored properly can also attract bugs including moths, beetles and weevils. Again, it’s unlikely to cause you any real harm if you bake with bug-infested flour – but it’s an unappetizing thought.

How to tell if flour is bad

Luckily, it’s quite easy to tell if your flour has gone bad. If you’ve had a bag of flour in the cupboard for a while, but you’re not quite sure how long, or if it’s still okay to bake with, you should be able to quickly tell after checking its smell, colour and texture.

  • Smell: Fresh flour shouldn’t have much of a smell at all – it should be either completely neutral or have a slightly sweet smell. If you open up the bag and it smells unpleasant or rancid, it’s a sure sign that the flour has gone off.
  • Colour: Flour does vary naturally in colour, but broadly speaking, it should be white or off-white. If it looks grey or yellow, it’s likely that it’s gone off.
  • Texture: Flour should be soft and powdery. If you find that it’s lumpy or feels moist, then it’s probably gone off.
  • Taste: As with smell, flour should have a pretty neutral taste. If it tastes bitter or otherwise unusual, it means it’s past its best.

How long is flour good for?

To make sure that your baking is always at its best, it’s a good idea to only use flour that’s still in date. 

Different types of flour have a different shelf life, ranging from anywhere between three months and a year:

  • All-purpose or white flour: When stored properly in a cool, dry place, this type of flour can last for 6-12 months.
  • Whole wheat flour: This type of flour doesn’t last as long as other types of flour, and typically only has a shelf life of 3 to 6 months.
  • Cake flour: When stored properly, cake flour can last for 6 to 8 months.
  • Bread flour: This type of flour has a higher protein content, which means it can last for longer than some other flours, typically for 8 to 12 months.

Of course, these are just guidelines. The longevity of your flour comes down to various factors, such as the temperature it’s stored and where you keep it.

Best way to store flour

Flour and heat don’t go well together. To get the most out of your flour for as long as possible, it’s best to store it in a cool, dry location. 

Flour contains oil in the wheat kernels. And when they’re exposed to heat, these oils can begin to turn rancid – which can lead to a nasty taste and smell. Storing your flour in a cool place helps to slow down the oxidation process, keeping your flour fresher for longer.

Keeping flour at a high temperature can also affect the texture. When it’s warm, flour will absorb moisture, which can cause it to clump together. And when you bake with clumps of flour, it can cause a dry, crumbly texture. Storing your flour at a cooler temperature can prevent that moisture absorption and help to maintain a powdery consistency.

Flour usually comes in a paper bag – but once you’ve opened it, if there’s flour left over, it’s best to transfer it to an airtight container. Paper bags aren’t airtight, which means that the flour can be affected by air, heat and moisture – which can lead to issues with the taste, odour and texture of the flour. Storing flour in a paper bag can also make it easier for pests to get into your flour, so transferring open bags of flour to a more robust container means it’s less likely to be contaminated.

Is it better to store flour in glass or plastic?

It comes down to personal preference. The main thing is that the container you use for your flour is airtight, providing a barrier against moisture, heat and air – which means that your flour can be preserved for longer.

Can you freeze flour?

If you don’t use flour very often – and have plenty of freezer space – then storing it in the freezer can be a great way of extending its shelf life. 

To get the best results, transfer your flour to an airtight container or bag. If you’re using a bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and make sure that it’s tightly sealed before putting it in the freezer. If you’re using a container, ensure the lid closes fully so no air can get in.

Flour can last for a year or even longer in the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, remove it from the freezer and leave it to thaw at room temperature before using it. Giving it time to come to room temperature will ensure the flour has a good consistency, and is less likely to clump.

Should you store flour in the refrigerator?

The fridge is another great place to store your flour, as it can last for up to a year. Again, store it in an airtight container or bag to avoid any moisture seeping in that might ruin your flour, and to prevent contamination by any strong-smelling food in the fridge.

Can you store flour in the cupboard?

If you don’t have any space in your fridge or freezer, then keeping it in the cupboard is the ideal solution – as long as you choose a cupboard in a cool location. Try to avoid putting it in a cupboard above your oven, as excess heat can have a big impact on the quality of the flour.

Wherever you store your flour, make sure that you clearly label the container with the type of flour and the date you opened it. That’ll help you to keep track of how long you’ve had it for – and if you have several types of flour on the go at once, it’ll make sure that you never use all-purpose flour when the recipe calls for gram flour.

Put your baking skills to the test

Getting the basics right is the first step to learning how to bake. So, now you know the essentials like how to store your flour for the best results, it’s time to find out more about using that flour to create some delicious bakes. 

From brioche buns to sourdough, Bread Making by Richard Bertinet will soon have you baking with total confidence and spectacular results.

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