How to care for your share: storage and spoilage

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September 30th, 2009 by Admin

While it is a great pleasure for us to know that Urban Grains members have just welcomed 20kg of freshly milled flour into their homes, such a large amount can be intimidating for even an earnest baker. Complicating matters, whole grain can go rancid eventually (marked by a decidedly “off” smell). No one likes to waste good food, or lose an investment, and we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what is the best way to store your grain as you work your way through it. The short answer is threefold: in the dark, airtight, and cool (or cold). The ideal conditions for lengthening the life of whole grain flour are found in a freezer, but if you don’t have enough space there a fridge, cellar, or cool cupboard will work too.

The longer answer, if you care to read more about what exactly you should be concerned about, is below…

A quick tour of the wheat grain

There are plenty of delicious ways to work your way through 20 kilos, but today I wanted to start with a discussion about storage and spoilage. Whole grain flour – which our members will be receiving – contains all parts of the wheat seed, including the germ and the outer layer of bran. Bran is a seed’s fibre-packed coating, and the germ is where each seed stores the nutrients it would use to grow into a seedling – it’s where you’ll find the niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, protein, fiber and fat. Whole grain flour, germ included, is much better for you than white or even whole-wheat flour, which have each undergone varying degrees of refinement. (In Canada, bizarrely, a flour can legally be called “whole-wheat” even if it has had up to 70% of the germ removed – which it usually has. For more check out this 2007 National Post article.)


Inclusion of the germ in a flour makes for a more nutritious food, but it also means a less stable product. The oils present in the germ mean that whole grain flour can go rancid if kept for too long under incorrect conditions.

Different people have different feelings about how long is too long to store whole-grain flour. We had one mailing list subscriber write in who grinds his own flour and won’t leave any around for longer than four hours after milling, while I tend to be a bit less anxious. I’ve kept whole grain flour in a cool cupboard for a few months without any noticeable issues. There’s a degree of personal opinion in all of this too: never eat food that you’re uncomfortable eating.

Local voices weigh in

John MacKenzie of Anita’s Organic mill, who will be milling our grain in the fall, had this to say when I asked him about racidity:

Anita’s has been selling whole grain flour for almost 20 years. In my four years at Anita’s we’ve never had any issues with rancidity. We tell customers to use within 6 months for freshest results, the product will last longer if store in a fridge or freezer – in the dark is best. We’ve done trials on 1 year old flour and it was still functioning beautifully. There will be a wide range of opinions on this topic but we stand behind our products. If anyone ever has an issue with the flour we sell we replace it or give them a credit.

Moreover, we actually have customers that prefer the flour to sit for 2 weeks prior to baking, there is a sweating process that flour goes through after being milled – some bakers prefer their flour after a sweating period.

For another professional opinion, I went to Chris Hergesheimer, newly brought on board to manage the project, who also mills local grain under the professional moniker The Flour Peddler. Here are Chris’s thoughts:

Whole grain flour, 20 kg’s of it is going to take even the most dedicated family baker (maybe using 3-4 kg’s per week) at least 6 weeks to finish. This is pushing the recommended shelf life of whole wheat. However, many bakers that I have talked to advocate ‘aging’ flour anywhere from 4 days to two to three weeks for best results. Ideally, you don’t want to have whole wheat flour hanging around for too long […] I only mill in small batches (1-2 kgs) and tell people that ideally it should be gone or frozen within the week.

I am no expert, but I have been milling whole grain flour for 2.5 years with no complaints about the shelf life of the flour. On this note, 20 kg’s is a lot to have hanging around. You really want to advocate freezing the bulk of this, especially if you are only planning on making one loaf a week for half a year….

We trust these guys, but of course you should always be listening to your own instincts (and nose) first. If you smell something off in your flour bags, is probably best not to use them anymore. Take a nice big whiff now, while the bags are really fresh, so that you are comfortable assessing what “normal” smells like. Enjoy the flour!

2 Responses to “How to care for your share: storage and spoilage”

  1. Douglas Says:

    About 8 years ago I started using whole grain flour, usually bought at a natural foods market, and I noticed it never seemed to last like the white flour I had used before. It was by trial and error that I learned how to store it but your in depth article explains the whys very well.

  2. Casino Bellini Says:

    You are right Douglas. This article explains the storage process very well.

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