Happy Herbivore Blog

October 8, 2013

Bulk Food Storage (How to Store Bulk Foods, Flour, Nuts, Grains, Breads & Spices)

This email bubbled up in my inbox recently:

I just got your EHH cookbook and the 3 day cleanse.  I am excited to try these but have never really cooked or bought groceries really - sad but true.... I have grown up on McDonalds and tv dinners but want to change in a big way.  Anyway, I just went to the store and bought flour and baking powder and grains and such. Do you know the best way to store things - flour, grains, etc.?  What should I freeze and for how long?  Should I keep everything - beens, lentils, grains, flour - in the freezer all the time or in glass on the counters...?

HH's intern, Jamee, took on the role of 'investigative reporter' to help us figure out the very best way to store our bulk foods! 


One of the most cost-effective ways to eat a whole foods plant-based diet is to stock up on grains, flours, dried beans and legumes, spices and a myriad of other dry goods! Buying in bulk is often cheaper. You take away the cost of packaging, and you get to decide exactly how much you buy, and therefore how much you pay! Even if the grocery store you shop at doesn’t have a bulk section, it’s often advisable to keep your dry goods in reusable containers instead of their original packaging for both convenience and shelf life. I keep all of my grains and oats in glass mason jars on an open shelf in my kitchen, and they double as decoration! Just seeing them makes me feel healthier, and I never forget what I have on hand. (See her kitchen stprage, above!)

Food storage will vary from item to item. The best approach also varies by climate, so the best advice may come from friends, neighbors, and local school or government entities. (I found lots of good information from Purdue Extension’s Department of Foods and Nutrition PDF.)

Flour

I remember finding weevils – tiny, brown, worm-like bugs – in a bag of flour my mom had when I was growing up. It was not a pleasant experience! Luckily, there are some simple ways to prevent this from ever happening. Storing your flour in the freezer for one to two weeks after purchasing it will kill any weevil larvae that might exist. 

If you plan to use your flour within a few weeks, the packaging it came in should be sufficient. However, flour takes up moisture and dries out easily, so if you are storing it for longer than that, it’s recommended that you transfer it to a glass or metal container. Heavy-duty, BPA-free plastic containers can also work. Flour also absorbs odors; storing it away from strong scents is best. 

Whole-wheat and brown rice flours benefit from being stored in the refrigerator or freezer, because it slows the oils in them from going rancid. If you live in a hot and/or humid climate, you may want to store all flours in the refrigerator, as storing your flour at a warm temperature increases the chance of having pests.

Grains

As a general rule, whole grains have a shorter shelf life than refined grains, because the germ part of the grain (that is removed during the refining process) can cause it to become rancid over time. However, grains typically last several months without much special effort, and most can stay fresh up to a year if stored properly in a freezer.

I found an extremely comprehensive guide to storage on recipetips.com, but the general idea for most grains is that they like cool, dark places and airtight containers! As for hot/humid climates, the same thing applies to grains as it did to flours. Refrigeration is optimal.

Bread

Ideally, bread would be kept at room temperature in a cool, dry place. Refrigeration can dry it out, and make it go stale faster. But during the summer (and potentially year-round for the hot/humid climates) mold might grow fast enough to make putting it in the fridge your best option. 

Hard crust breads, like French bread, should be stored at room temperature in a paper bag and eaten with 2-3 days, because they dry out very quickly. You can use foil to cover the cut end instead of using a plastic bag, which may make crusty bread turn spongy. English muffins and other high-moisture breads should be kept in the refrigerator from day one. 

I buy Alvarado Street Sprouted Whole Wheat bread (on Amazon) which is kept in the freezer section of my Whole Foods Market, and I’ve found that this bread stays good for much longer than the bread I used to buy before becoming plant-based. I think this is because it stays frozen during transportation and while it’s waiting on the shelf. 


Nuts & Seeds

If you’re trying to lose weight, or have heart disease, skip this part! Nuts and seeds can be detrimental for some people, but are a nutrient-dense, calorie-dense option for athletes, active people on the go, or people who may be trying to healthfully gain weight.

Buying nuts and seeds from the bulk bins of a busy grocery store is a good way to ensure freshness. If you’re unsure, try sampling before buying if possible. Ideal storage for nuts and seeds is in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. Move them to the freezer if you won’t be using them within a month of purchasing.

Raw, unsalted varieties are typically a better choice as roasting can speed up decomposition, and salt can cover up rancidity. Plus, roasted nuts usually contain oil, and added salt isn’t something many of us need in our diet!

Dried Herbs & Spices

The best thing you can do to keep dried herbs and spices fresh is to buy in bulk, keeping in mind how often you use each one. For example, I use granulated garlic and onion powders almost every day, so I buy a large amount at one time. But I use ground sage and nutmeg less frequently, so I buy those on an as-needed basis. If you don’t have access to bulk spices, try buying whole spices instead of ground when possible. They will deteriorate in flavor more slowly than their counterparts.

Light and air are enemies to dried herbs and spices, so store them in airtight containers in a dark cupboard (or in opaque containers if you have them out on a spice rack). You can refrigerate or freeze them, and it will improve freshness and shelf life, but given their relatively stable state, refrigerator real estate is usually reserved for other food items.

If you’re unsure about the ideal storage conditions for a certain item, the internet is full of suggestions! 


As a general rule, most pantry staples stay good if placed in airtight containers and stored in cool temperatures. 

This goes double for anyone in hot or humid climates! Another way to ensure freshness of food is to plan ahead and only buy the ingredients for what you’ll be making that week. (The meal plans are a great way to do this!) But it’s always good to have an emergency brown rice stockpile for nights when time and/or money are in short supply. Proper storage of dry goods and pantry staples can help you to always have a plant-strong option in the house!

Related Posts:Food Storage - How Long Does it Last?

Get the Most Out of Produce (How to Store Fruits and Vegetables)

To Free or Not to Freeze (HH Recipes that Freeze Well)

How to Freeze Foods (What Can and Cannot be Frozen)


After this blog post went up, Beth tweeted a picture of her organized spices. LOVE it! 

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