Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How to Store Flour

My wife and I have been working on our food storage. For years, the Prophets and other LDS Church leaders have told us to gather and maintain a years supply of food, in case of emergencies. It started as two years, but I guess they realized that most of us are still too wicked and slothful to do that. So, they toned it back to a year.

My wife and I are nowhere near being done.

We've started though, and that's meant learning how to do it. We still haven't figured it out, but we're getting better at it. Mostly we're getting better at dealing with food storage because of things we've learned from Simply Living Smart, a website dedicated to food storage. They've got some amazing resources there, so I recommend you check them out.

The biggest question for us has been, how do you store flour? Can you even do it for a year? I've found a lot of conflicting research. Some people say that you can keep white flour for up to six months. Whole wheat flour goes rancid after two. Others say it's much longer than that. My own accidental experience tells me that if you store it properly, you can get away with a full year.

Bingo. One years worth of flour.

Okay, John. What about storage wheat? That was all the craze 'back in the day,' right? You get storage wheat, and a wheat grinder.

If you really want to do that, be my guest. Grinding wheat into flour, electrically or by hand, just doesn't appeal to me. What can I say? I'm still wicked and slothful. (Normally I prefer to think of it as knowing my limits than admitting it's a character flaw.)

So, we've decided to go with flour, instead of grain, for storing wheat.

Keep in mind that we're not talking about getting a years supply of food together and then letting it sit in the basement for a year. We're going to be using it throughout the year, replacing things as we use them and rotating the stock.

There are a few issues with storing flour, including the issue of nutritional value. Grains ground into flour lose some of there nutrients over time. It turns out that wheat flour keeps it's nutritional elements intact a lot longer than was previously thought. If you're still worried about it, take a multivitamin.

The other two major issues are bugs and rancidity. Wheat flour has a small amount of fat in it from the wheat germ. Just like other fats, it can go rancid. All wheat has weevil and other bugs in them. Mostly eggs. Other bugs can get into the paper containers you normally buy the stuff in pretty easily, too.

It turns out that you can take three simple steps to eradicate these little monsters, and keep the fat in the wheat germ from going rancid before you use it.

  1. Freeze the flour.
  2. Add dried bay leaves
  3. Store in an airtight container.
  4. Keep the containers in a cool, dry, place.

To freeze flour, transfer it into small, zip-lock type plastic freezer bags, and put it in your freezer overnight. The cold should kill any living bugs and muck with most of the eggs. The zip-lock bag is to keep the moisture out.

Adding a few dried bay leaves to the flour can help cut down on bugs, as well. Most of insects don't like it and I've been told it's actually poisonous to weevil larvae. Just make sure you take the bay leaves out of the flour before you cook with it. I learned this lesson after making a wonderful loaf of bay flavored bread in my bread maker one day.

Make sure your storage containers are airtight. This helps avoid rancidity and creates yet another hostile environment for the bugs. Some people even suggest putting oxygen trapping chem packs in with the flour, but I'm not sure it's necessary. We've chosen to use 20 gallon storage buckets with air tight gamma lids.

How many times have you heard the mantra of the pantry, “Keep it in a cool, dry, place?” Same story, here. Light and heat contribute to fat rancidity and stale food. Avoid those as much as possible.

Here comes the disclaimer. Please keep in mind that I'm not a food scientist, nutritionalist, or otherwise licensed food service worker. I've had no formal training in this. All of this is based on the research I've done, mixed with my own experience. Take my advice for what it is, the friendly kind, not the professional kind. Don't sue me if this doesn't work for you.

Picture by Melanie Martinelli

17 comments:

Mom2my9 said...

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Debbie said...

I know I shouldn't be but I am confused, I want to store flour in my basement for about a year, so should I freeze it, then add bay leaves, then store in airtight container, or do I do one or the other?

John Newman said...

Hey Debbie,

The idea of freezing is that it will kill the weevil eggs, so you really don't need to freeze it more than, say, overnight.

To be honest, I don't freeze my flour. I buy it in big 25 - 50 pound bags and my freezer isn't big enough. I just dump it into an air tight container, add some bay leaves, and seal it up until I want to use it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great ideas. We had no idea. One questions though... Where do you get the airtight containers? What kind, etc...

John Newman said...

I use the large 5 gallon white food grade storage buckets with GAMMA lids. I'll have to write something up about them, I think.

Jeanne said...

Love your blog! I had 50 pounds of white flour and half that of whole wheat flour stored in air tight containers and after several years of storage, they were still fine and good to use.

I had stored the flour in gallon size bags and sealed with a seal a meal device, then sealed in the air tight buckets with gamma lids, others sealed in air tight buckets using the dry ice method.

Everything was stored dry and in the dark until a tornado opened the outer wall they were stacked against. The wall was blown away but the storage, neatly stacked and duct taped together, didn't move an inch.

My husband and I help out a couple of young families with kids (and little else) and found ourselves having to eat our storage for a year and half so we could help the kids out. With just the addition of fresh food from our garden and some extra spices, cleaning products and toilet paper, we did fine.

Blogs like this are AWESOME and I'm sending our two special families and others to your blog for when I'm no longer to tell them how to do things. Thank you very much, this is a blessing.

John Newman said...

Thank you, Jeanne! Such kind words. I think your story is awesome! I can see it now, "Food storage survives tornado. Film at 11:00." That's amazing!

Shreela said...

Like you, I'd rather store flour, instead of wheatberries that require grinding, so that's why I found your article -- after reading about Russia's heatwave and 2 weeks of fires, now their president announced they're stopping wheat exports (supposedly Russia is #1 exporter).

So I'm going to stock up on flour just in case this might cause a wheat panic, similar to the recent rice panic, driving rice prices crazy high for a few months, until people calmed down.

I've frozen flour in gallon ziplocks (after a vacuum pack disaster LOL), but haven't done the bay leaf trick. Do baked sweets taste like bay?

John Newman said...

Hello Shreela,

Baked goods only taste like bay if you accidentally include one of the bay leaves in with the recipe. That's what happened with me. I was making bread in my breadmaker only to discover, too late, that I'd gotten a bay leaf in, as well. :-)

Annie said...

Thanks for the tips! We have been building our food storage back up after living off of it these past few years because of bad business, economy, etc.

Now we've moved, changed jobs, are paying off debt from business failure, and trying to build that food storage back up!

I like to rotate, and buy flour 25 lbs. at a time from the grocery store. We have Winco Foods here, and they carry a lot of bulk foods, food storage buckets , and gamma lids. It's so cool! We moved from Missouri to No. Cali., not thinking that it would be easier and cheaper to "stockpile" food than it was in the midwest.

I love that the food storage survived the tornado!

FYI, I found your blog through yourLDSNeighborhood.com newsletter.

John Newman said...

Wow, Annie! Thanks for sharing that. I think there are many of us, myself included, that are using our food storage more and more, these days. The peace of mind it brings, being able to feed your family in troubled times, is a real testament to the Church's food storage program.

Rachelle said...

Great article! I have a confession...I buy flour in 25 pound bags and do nothing with it! We just put it in our storage room and have never had a problem with it going bad. I've had bags that were 18 months old and still fine--but it was stored in a cool, dry, place. :)We rotate through the bags pretty good, but generally buy flour only once or twice a year on case lot sales. And I have wheat that my mom gave me from her food storage that is twenty years old and I'm grinding it to make my bread with my awesome Nutrimill grinder. Food storage is the best!

skarekrow said...

Is there any scientific basis to suggest that adding bay leaves deter weevils?

I understand this is an old wives tale

John Newman said...

Hey skarekrow!

That's a good question. I'm not sure if there are any scientific studies about bay leaves deterring weevil or not. If it's an "old wive's" tale, I can tell you that I have noticed a significant difference in weevil occurrence in my own food storage since I started doing it, as in "I don't have that problem anymore." I was told it was poisonous to them, but most of the literature I'm finding suggests it is the aromatic resins that may be driving them away.

According to this writer, an expert at the King Aurthur Flour company suggests using bay leaves to repel Indian meal moths. http://bit.ly/fWYRxX While they are unrelated to weevil, the effect may be the same.

Anonymous said...

I have found it takes a least 2 weeks in the freezer to kill weavel eggs. I religiously put all my flour in the freezer for 1 week and still had a few weavels hatching. Granted I live in Phoenix, AZ, so room temp. in the summer is about 80 degrees. I have weavels in flour that was only 6 months old in a sealed container!

Anonymous said...

I have been told to freeze flour, allow it to thaw, then freeze again in order to keep it weevil-free.

Anonymous said...

many years ago I used the LDS cannery and put flour (bread and all purpose) into #10 cans, sealed each with an Oyx absorber packet. the first year or two they were stored in the basement but circumstances changed and they went into a storage facility and eventually into a barn (in the deep south). they held up just fine dispite the temps and the humidity. I now put flour in mylar bags and then into a 5 gal bucket and seal.