Mid pantry clear-out, you stand holding a bag of long-forgotten expired flour. It was meant for Nana’s birthday cake in 2016, but clearly fate had other plans. With trembling hands, you wipe away the white dust coating this ancient artifact and peek inside…. Only to find that sickly green playdough has formed. Ugh, what do I do NOW?
Luckily for you, I’ve written a complete guide on what you can do with old flour. I’ve made sure to cover topics like expiration dates and what they mean, how long different types of flour last, crafts you can make with old flour, and of course, how to tell when it’s time to pack it in and throw the bag out.
How To Tell If Your Flour Is Expired
I’ll admit, this one’s a bit of a trick question. That is, if you can tell your flour is bad…. you’re definitely going to have to throw it out. After all, there’s no use in baking a cake if it doubles as a biohazard!
If you’re not sure whether your flour is still usable, inspect it first. Flour that is okay to use should either smell slightly nutty or have no scent at all. It should have no sign of pests, mold, discoloration, or changes in consistency present.
Tell-Tale Signs That Your Flour Has Gone Bad
If you spot any sort of pest in your flour, it is without fail unsafe to use. Pests that are attracted to your pantry include weevils, beetles, mites and meal moths. Unfortunately, infestation can happen regardless of how clean you keep your kitchen, so make sure to be on the lookout for pantry bugs.
Mycelium may not be a plant, but it fits the theme here so I’m going to use it. Although some foods are potentially salvageable after beginning to mold, this is not the case for flour – in fact, flour is particularly dangerous to consume post-molding as it develops high levels of mycotoxins. So make sure to throw out that rancid flour!
Consistency And Color
It may be obvious, but if your flour has turned to the consistency of playdough, it’s certainly not going to do you any good. The same goes for any discoloration.
When you don’t have any other pointers toward your flour being bad, smelling it tends to do the trick. Rancid flour will smell sour or musty whereas in-date flour either has no smell, or a slightly nutty scent. This makes it easy to tell apart from rancid flour, which usually smells quite strongly of rubber, rot or playdough (what is it with playdough?).
In other words, if your flour smells musty, oily, or otherwise gross, the best thing to do is toss it and get some new flour.
Expiration vs Best By?
The ‘best by’ date is the date that it is best to use your flour by – before this date, your flour will have the most gluten (if your flour has gluten, of course) and will generally be at its peak in quality. These labels are not mandatory and denote quality and freshness rather than safety, so your flour may still be safe to eat past this date.
The ‘use by’ or ‘expiration’ date is simply the date that your flour expires by. If your flour has passed the expiration date it has likely already been sullied by mold or bugs, or even just changes in smell and consistency. Anything past the expiration date must be thrown out.
What Affects Expiration Time?
Some types of flour expire faster than others – this is simply because different flours have different constituent elements.
Plain white flour has the longest shelf life of them all, with other variations of white flour following shortly after. Whole-grain and specialty flours typically have the shortest shelf life because they contain more natural oils and nutritional content.
It is important to remember that all flours, regardless of type, are still perishable.
How Long Do Different Flours Last?
|Unopened, pantry||Opened, pantry||Unopened, fridge||Opened, fridge|
|All purpose||1 year||8 months||1-2 years||1 year|
|Self-rising||4-6 months||N/A||up to 1 year||N/A|
|Bread flour||4-6 months||N/A||up to 1 year||N/A|
|Whole wheat||best by 3 months||N/A||best by 6 months||N/A|
|Gluten-free||up to 3 months||N/A||up to 1 year||N/A|
What Can I Do With Expired Flour?
How Long Can You Eat Flour After It Expires?
It’s important to note that any flour that has passed its expiration date must be thrown out. However, if your flour is only past its best by date, it may still be good to eat! Just inspect your flour each time you go to use it and make sure it’s okay.
What To Do With Expired Bread Flour: Can You Bake With Rancid Flour?
I know I’m not the first to ask if you can use expired flour for baking – in short though, the answer is no. Any flour that is already noticeably rancid is no longer suitable or safe for use of any kind. However, flour past its best by date may still be usable.
So what happens if you bake with ‘expired’ (past best by) flour?
Bread flour follows the same guidelines as self-rising white flour, generally lasting up to 6 months if left unopened in the pantry. If you choose to make bread with old flour, the quality of your bread is likely to be affected.
Even if the flour is still good, it may produce less gluten when used. This affects the texture of baked goods, making them more brittle. This is why it is best to use only recently purchased flour for baking soft cookies and bread.
Similarly, self-rising flour loses some of its potency over time. If you’re using older self-rising flour, it might be a good idea to add a little baking powder in your recipe to help out your flour.
How Should I Store Flour?
Although most people tend to store flour in the paper sacks that they come in, this is not an effective way of storing flour once it has been opened. Not only is paper packaging susceptible to rips, tears and leaks, it also leaves your flour prone to bug infestation!
The best way to avoid this and safely store your flour is to ditch the paper sack and transfer your grain to an airtight container. Make sure that your container has a secure lid and is made of either glass or thick plastic. It’s also important to label your new vessel with the best by and expiration date, as well as the type of flour that it contains.
To store your flour long-term, your best bet is to keep the container in a fridge. If you plan to use up the flour before the end of the year, the pantry should also be okay.
Fun Things To Do With Flour
From Scottish wedding traditions to frog-shaped bread, there’s much fun to be had with flour! I’ve listed below some of my favorite adult and child friendly crafts and recipes to try out so you can use up that old spare flour sitting in the pantry.
Danny Freeman has plenty of recipes for fun, easy-to-make, colorful pastas! On his page, you can find anything from succulent-shaped ravioli to Valentine’s day hearts and rose pasta.
If you’re tired of buying playdough just for it to get all mixed up and go brown, your kids will love this craft! Try out a homemade playdough recipe using flour and food coloring (or natural colorants). Save on buying playdough and teach your kids about the kitchen with this fun craft.
Two Peas In A Pod
This craft uses flour to make salt dough, a dough that can last for years if properly preserved. You can use it to make these wonderful pea-pod pendants – or even some Christmas ornaments during the festive season!
This idea is less of a craft within itself and more of a useful tool. Flour glue has been used for ages, especially for paper mâché. It makes a great adhesive in a pinch, but might not be the best for long-term crafts.
Half craft and half bake-job, but 100% adorable. Use up that spare flour and bring your kids in to help build the frogs at the end! This recipe is more complicated than the salt dough craft, but well worth it if you want some delicious froggy friends.
Expired Flour: Safe Or Not?
Flour that has passed its expiration date is no longer safe to eat or use in any capacity and should be thrown out. However, if your flour is just a little old, or maybe past its best buy, there are plenty of ways that you can use it – including in baking! Just keep in mind that baking with old flour might affect the texture of softer baked goods like cookies.