After talking grains non-stop for more than 2 years, here is what I’ve learned from you, dear readers: many of you are afraid to buy whole grains and whole grain flours because you have been told over and over again to store them in the fridge or freezer. You have been warned that grains will go bad fast. Bad as in rancid bad. Or they will get bugs. Bugs as in yikes.
Even some of the people I most respect in my field keep repeating this piece of advice. They speak of nutrient loss and heat degradation and, and, and. But I consider this advice most unfortunate because it deters you from buying grains in the first place. I wouldn’t buy them either if I had to store them in my fridge—it usually is filled to the tilt. And I certainly don’t want to buy a second freezer for them.
So here are my five cents worth of advice: please stop worrying about whole grains going bad fast. They don’t. I have never chilled any of my whole grains and flours. And I’ve always had at least a dozen types at home at all times. When I work on a book, it will be three or four times as much. And I don’t even have air conditioning. But it’s never been a problem.
I store my grains the way I’ve learned it from passionate Germans who have used whole grains for centuries.
• I simply put them into affordable mason jars with tight-fitting lids.
• And I place the jars in a cool dark place.This is what I do with my bulk supply and my numerous whole grain flours.
• The grains I use most often, I even place on an open kitchen shelf. The purpose is two-fold: lining up my grains with their many colors looks beautiful. It also enables me to see at a glance what I have on hand to cook. When I come home and see bulgur, buckwheat, or millet I know I can have a grain on the table fast. And on a more leisurely weekend, I will grab the jar with whole spelt or Kamut and soak the grains so I can cook them later for dinner or some other day.
If stored this way your grains and flours will last for many months, and more. In fact farmers will tell you that whole grains will last almost indefinitely when properly stored. This is not surprising — they are seeds after all. Grains have helped mankind survive harsh winters when fresh greens, berries and meat were either not available or hard to come by. Sure, whole grain flours will lose some of their vibrant flavors over time—that’s why I suggest buying freshly milled flour from a local farm. Or, if you bake a lot, try milling your own flour. And in the rare case your flour develops an off-scent just toss it. I always smell my flour before using it.
As I’m working on my second book on grains, I will research more about this topic to get the best advice I can. In the meantime, please stop worrying about the shelf life of your grains. You can worry about your ground beef, fresh milk and butter. But buy ancient grains, lots of them, and enjoy them daily.