Let’s face it, we always have a large surplus of it in our “home laboratories,” and we often do not know how best to store flour. Because that’s the way we are, we like to experiment and try our hand at new preparations and often end up with more supplies than we should.
But don’t worry, flour is a food, and like all foods you can extend its shelf-life with a few simple tricks.
Therefore, let us analyze each possible situation and propose the most suitable preservation method.
What we fear most as the warm season approaches is the presence of those pesky butterflies in the midst of our beloved flour.
Moth, Plodia, Pyralis, and Tribolium are lepidopterans and beetles that are in effect the most common and harmful flour pests.
Today we will not address how these pests infest your pantry, but know that the larvae are capable of puncturing both paper packaging and light layers of plastic. But there is good news.
In order to develop, these insects need temperatures between 22 and 30°C and time ranging from 25 to 300 days; so if you store the flour well, you have nothing to fear.
Storage at room temperature in a suitable place
As long as you do not exceed the “expiration date” (which expiration date it is not but we discuss that at the end of the article), you can store the flours in their original bag, even after being opened, at about 18 to 20°C in a not particularly humid environment, within about 55 percent humidity.
It is the environmental condition that we usually have in our homes in the autumn, winter and spring periods. Seasons during which there are hardly any major storage problems.
Oxygen hinders the preservation of flour.
Some nutrients in the flour are subject first to oxidation, resulting in a decrease in its natural elasticity, and then to rancidity, which makes the flour unusable and with the typical “stale smell.”
Eliminating oxygen by vacuum and insulating the flour from ambient moisture is a good solution. However, home vacuum techniques and equipment do not guarantee 100 percent insulation; moisture and oxygen can still interact with our food.
Flour stored in this way will keep “fresh” for a few months following the minimum storage time but it is advisable not to go too far.
Storage in the refrigerator
It might seem the seemingly most logical solution but you have to pay special attention to moisture ,which leads to mold growth and contamination.
Airtight plastic containers might seem a good solution to insulate the product from moisture and bacteria from other foods. Unfortunately, they are not as airtight as they may seem and take up a lot of space.
It is to be considered as a temporary solution to protect flour on the hottest and most humid days but impractical and not particularly effective because condensation problems and consequently, mold and bacteria development can occur.
Much more “protective,” on the other hand, glass jars with mechanical closures and gaskets such as Bormioli’s, which provide an excellent degree of preservation at the expense of not-so-small cost and bulk.
An effective solution if you own a wine barrel is to consider setting it at 18°C and using it solely for storing flour in the warmer months, avoiding both contamination and excessive humidity.
Vacuum storage in the refrigerator
What we said above applies.
Vacuum sealing only partially insulates food from its environment so the shelf life of a vacuum-packed flour stored in a refrigerator would not increase by much compared to vacuum sealing at 18°C, but it remains a good remedy if you don’t have a cool, dry environment to store it in.
Can I freeze flour?
This is a very very interesting question. And the answer is, “absolutely yes.”
It is no secret that foods, during freezing can suffer damage at the cellular level. The formation of ice crystals due to freezing water can damage nutrient membranes by changing their characteristics.
This is the main reason, for example, why frozen compressed yeast loses some of its leavening power.
But in flour the presence of liquids is particularly low so the risk of this happening in the short to medium term should be almost zero. In the long run, however, the damage caused at the cellular level on starches and proteins would be negligible.
It can be assumed that a flour placed in special “frost” bags and well frozen can be stored for several months in the freezer at -18°C without any problems.
Beware, however, of the eggs of the well-known pests! It is a common thought that they cannot withstand freezing and instead they are able to survive at -10°C for several days (even a few weeks) while at -18° they hardly survive more than 72 hours.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in the scientific literature dealing with rheological changes in flour when it is frozen for a certain period so what I have described to you are to be considered personal opinions dictated by logic and supported by the same conclusions reached by the Dr. Gabriele Raimondi and the Dr. Simona Lauri.
First of all, it should be noted that flour is part of those products regulated by the European Union on the basis of the so-called Minimum Conservation Period(MCT) such as pasta, rice and coffee.
The TMC stands for how long the product, when in its original unopened package and stored in a suitable environment, retains its original organoleptic characteristics. Moreover, the law quotes verbatim:
“Food that has passed this deadline may be released under Article 4, ensuring the integrity of the primary packaging and suitable storage conditions.”
After the minimum storage time has elapsed, the flour enters the period in which, while maintaining its characteristics with regard to sanitary safety, its organoleptic qualities may vary, so it remains edible but will gradually undergo a slow nutritional and performance decay.
Consider that, in principle, a white flour can still be used, if properly stored, for up to 6 months beyond its TMC and an all-body whole-wheat flour for up to 3 months.
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…And now knead, enjoy and taste!