Flour is the base for so many common foods: bread, pasta, pasta, cakes, crackers . . . The list goes on.
As versatile as flour is, somehow we all end up finding a half-empty bag of flour in our cupboard and wondering:
Wait, does flour go bad? How do I even tell?
Look no further. Today, we’re running through how to tell if your flour has gone bad, how to store flour, and how long flour lasts.
The good news: Whatever type of flour you have (wholewheat, gluten-free, plain, etc.), the storage instructions are pretty similar.
In a nutshell: If your flour smells bad, it’s time for the bin. If it doesn’t, it’s probably fine. Flour is shelf-stable, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong storage-wise, but you can extend the life of your flour by storing it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
How To Tell If Your Flour Has Gone Bad
The easiest way to tell if your flour is good is by checking the expiration date on the packaging. That said, if stored properly, flour is often fine for months after this date. Plus, expiration dates on flour aren’t mandatory, so there’s a chance you won’t find one.
The most surefire way of actually telling if your flour has gone bad is by smelling it. Fresh flour has a neutral odor, whilst bad flour smells stale and musty, almost sour.
Other than that, flour has gone off when it’s discolored, or when there are large clumps of mold. That’s a sign that your flour has come into contact with moisture. More on how to avoid that later.
If you’ve just realized that you’ve baked with and eaten flour that’s off, there’s probably no cause for concern. Flour goes rancid – when fat oxidizes and makes food taste and smell bad – but rancidity is not actually dangerous.
Worked out that your old flour has gone rancid?
There are loads of repurposing options so that you don’t waste your flour. For example, you can make playdough or glue.
How To Store Flour
When it comes to storing flour, you can’t go too wrong, since, according to the USDA, flour is shelf-stable, which means it will last just fine at room temperature.
However, if “just fine” isn’t good enough, and you want to extend the shelf life of your flour for as long as possible, you should store it appropriately.
That means keeping your flour in an airtight container and storing it in a cool, dry place is the best way to go. Even if you haven’t opened your flour yet, the paper bag it comes in is definitely not a seal, so consider keeping the bag in a plastic tub.
If you’re set on your flour lasting for years, then keep it in the fridge or freezer. Again, seal in an airtight container, and make sure you don’t place the tub near to anything with a lot of moisture.
If you freeze your flour, allow it to warm to room temperature for half an hour before using it, in order to prevent lumps.
Types of Flour & How Long They Last
So here’s where it gets complicated.
There are loads of different types of flour – with various processing methods and source ingredients (like wheat, but or coconut) – and this means flours last different lengths of time.
For example, white all-purpose flour stays good for longer than wholewheat flour, because white flour is highly refined and stripped or brand and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. In contrast, wholewheat flour keeps all three parts.
Since bran and germ are fatty, they are more vulnerable to going rancid, which is when the fat oxidizes, causing a bad taste and smell. That means wholewheat flour goes bad faster than white flour.
Now: gluten-free flour is made with sources like almond, coconut, and nut, which have high moisture and fat contents. Therefore, gluten-free flours are often prone to rancidity so have much shorter shelf lives. With gluten-free flours, you should fully adhere to the dates on the packaging.
If stored properly, unopened white flour will last a year after its best before date in the pantry, 2 years after the best before date in the refrigerator or freezer.
Once you’ve opened your white flour, it will last 8 months in the pantry.
Provided you’ve stored your flour appropriately, wholegrain flour lasts 3 months past its best before date in the pantry, 6 months past in the refrigerator, and 1 year past the best before date in the freezer.
Once you’ve opened your wholewheat flour, it will keep in the fridge for a hefty 8 months.
The Lowdown On Flour
Flour doesn’t properly go bad, it goes rancid. That means the easiest way to tell if flour is off is by giving it a good sniff.
Remember: you can store your flour in the freezer to extend its life for up to a year.