Storing Grains, Against the Grain

IMG_6146 - Version 2After 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.

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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.

37 Responses to Storing Grains, Against the Grain

  1. Deborah Skeldon says:

    Thank you, Maria and also Sam, for this information! For several years I had a large stash of wheat berries that lasted just fine in a large metal container with a tight lid, and I used every bit. A few months ago I bought a small amount and put them in a glass kitchen counter canister which has a tight lid. I went to grind some today and the whole inside of the canister was moving with tiny bugs that were hatching from the berries! Yuk! I was ready to sell my grinder and go back to unbleached white flour only. I don’t know if the store sold me berries that were too old, or if just the room temperature on my counter was was just too warm/humid. Your blog has settled me down and helped me to reevaluate. It seems sealer jars in a cool dark room are my next step. Thankfully, I won’t sell my grinder after all.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Deborah, so sorry for the delay. Thank you for writing, and I’m glad you found this post helpful and are not tossing out the grinder. In fact, I have since posted more on the deliciousness of fresh milling, on my own blog search “A fresh Take on Oats, literally”. And just yesterday, incidentally, my post and recipe for a new umami waffle went life on, mentioning freshly milled einkorn flour. Regarding the moving YUK in your jar: Someone many years ago told me this simply means that your grains were “very tasty”, meaning not treated, if it’s any consolation. These things are part of life, just toss the grains out. It rarely ever happens if whole grains are stored properly.

  2. Margaret says:

    This is very helpful information. I use one fourth of my refrigerator space to store jars of whole grains and flour! After reading this, I would like to transfer all of them to my pantry. I wonder, though, if this might not be a good idea due to the moisture that is likely present in the grains as a result of storing them in the refrigerator. Thanks again.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Margaret, thank you for your sweet note and comment. I’m glad you found this information helpful. You are raising an interesting question. I personally believe that it would no problem to take your grains out of the fridge and store them in a dry cool place — assuming they were tightly wrapped or in tightly closed containers. But I have never tried this myself. I like to take a practical home-maker perspective since you do seem to need the space in the fridge. Alternately, you could use these grains and flours in the fridge up and store any newly acquired ones in a cool dry place. Let me know what you end up doing and how it works out. So much to learn, always. Thanks again for writing.

  3. lilly says:

    Oh thank you so much for clarifying . I just inherited a 20 lbs bag of organic amaranth seed and had no clue as to how to store this. So, thanks again. Mason jars are handy here. I don’t have air condition neither and live in a warm climate and off grid, thus a second fridge or freezer is not on the shopping list. I can however store the jars in the shed where it stays fairly cool during the summer months.

    • Maria Speck says:

      Hi Lilly, thank you for your note. I’m very happy to hear that this information is helpful to you. My apologies for the delay. Enjoy the amaranth, and let me know what you cook/bake with it!

  4. Tina Henley-Hicks says:

    I’m curious, would mylar bags with oxygen absorbers work? I don’t have a lot of room for a bunch of jars, but I could store a few large food grade buckets with the mylar bags inside.

    • Maria says:

      Tina, thank you for your note. I have no experience with mylar bags. But if they are tough enough then your solution might work just fine. My recommendation for glass containers (or other translucent containers with tight-fitting lids) is based on their ability to contain any possible infestations, and they enable me to discover any problems right away. But mylar bags seem to be of good quality and I think you should simply try it. And please don’t hesitate to drop another note. I would love to hear about your experience!

  5. Bonnie Deahl says:

    Hi Maria,
    I was glad to read your post about storing whole grains and wondered about the shelf life of grains. So far no rancidity in the grains when stored whole. I do keep my flours in the freezer though. We actually have looked into keeping a second fridge for such items, but I really like storing grains as whole as well as my spices and grind them as I need to. I am so looking forward to your next book. I have enjoyed the first and still go back to it for grain inspiration! Happy summer!

    • Maria says:

      Hi Bonnie, thank you so much for writing and for your kind words about my book. Of course you can keep flours in the fridge or freezer if you have the space. Personally — considering the cost of a second fridge/freezer and the electricity it uses — I’d rather toss the occasional bag of flour. I also like to see at a glance what grains and flours I have stored in my jars so I can easily use them. I do make sure though to keep them in the cool dark place. Have a great summer as well!

  6. joyofcooking says:

    So glad you posted this! We keep many different kinds of grains and flours on hand at all times, and I’ve never had them go rancid. Typically, the only thing I might worry about going rancid are nut or seed meals, which are so oily that rancidity can be a problem. Lately, we’ve been keeping our grains in 5-gallon buckets with Gamma Lids to guard against those vile pantry moths.
    Also, thrilled to hear you’re working on another book! Let us know if you need a blurb. We’d be happy to endorse your fine work.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Megan and Scott, so wonderful to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words regarding my book. I’m very happy to hear that you too have not had a problem with storing your grains and flours this way as it really makes life easier. Interesting to learn about Gamma Lids. I just screw my lids on tight which seems to work very well. Lovely to connect here and on Instagram and hope to meet in person some day!

  7. BJCJR says:


    • Maria says:

      Good point. That’s why I suggest storing grains in a cool dark place — you won’t need colored glass in addition. However, if you only have a bright cool place to store your grains light shielding containers are a good idea to preserve your whole grains in the longterm. Thank you for raising this.

  8. Hi Maria!
    Did not know about your web page, looks great!
    I agree; I have been in Beirut for over a year and a half and have been storing all the grains including flours in the cupboard, without a problem; I did that first because my fridge was too small and then when I noticed that everybody here was doing it, I thought: what was that big deal about having to store them in the fridge?

    • Maria says:

      Hi Joumana,
      How great to get your note and, as so often, we agree. Happy to hear that this storage system works for you as well. I believe it makes using grains so much easier because they are more accessible that way. Thank you also for the kind words about my site and blog. It took me forever to update it but I’m very happy with it now. One day, I much hope that we can meet and cook together. Oh, and please eat some mulberries for me — I miss being covered in their staining juices…

  9. Guru Hari says:

    Maria, thanks for dispelling the fridge/freezer myth. I used to run a cereal factory where we processed 20 to 25 million pounds of grains a year and learned a bit about this. While it is true that the lower the temperature the longer the shelf life for the grains. This is true for any food. However, if you keep the grains whole and do not flour until you need to (like coffee beans) you will minimize oxidation. The grain structure has natural barriers of moisture and their bran layers that protect their delicate fat molecules. So, yes, try to keep them whole and sealed in airtight jars. The other reason why people use the fridge and freezer is to stop infestation which will naturally occur within 90 days IF they are accessible to bugs. As you state, just need to store in glass or other impenetrable barrier and not paper or plastic bags or cardboard which the bugs can bore through. There’s a reason the Egyptians buried their kings and queens with barley and other whole grains. They knew if properly stored that the grains would remain vital years into the future and even into the afterlife!

    • Maria says:

      Wonderful – really appreciate your thoughts and your amazing experience, Guru Hari. Thank you for weighing in. And I much hope many more of us will discover the amazing grains of the ancient Egyptians. Emmer wheat or farro is one of my favorites so is barley.

  10. Kristin says:

    Hi Maria, Thanks for the great post! Curious if you have a recommendation on brand of mason jar? I was doing research after reading your article and some sites said to stay away from brands with BPA lined lids. Do you have a concern about this, considering the grains won’t really touch the lid?

    Thanks again!

    • Maria says:

      Hi Kristin, so nice to hear that this post is helpful. Regarding the mason jars, I’m not a scientist but here are my thoughts: unlike with canned food, the grains don’t easily come into contact with the lids, nor are they liquid or acidic in the way that tomatoes are. As a result, I’m not too concerned about this issue. You could also use old-fashioned glass canning jars with attached lids and rubber rings (or other containers with tight-fitting lids) as I have done in my recent post on preserved lemons. I will certainly look into this issue for my next book and hope to have answers by then.

    • Hi Kristin – BPA is typically only a concern if it will be touching the food, particularly wet and acidic foods (like jam, pickles, tomatoes, etc.), and in heat (e.g., during canning). For dry storage, regular lids are fine. But! If you really want to play it safe and have the money to spend, Tattler makes reusable, BPA-free lids. They take a little practice for canning, but are great.

      • Maria says:

        Heather, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply and for addressing this issue. So helpful to have all this information together in one place for everyone.

  11. Sam says:

    Maria, you’re right. The whole grain is a built in storage vessel designed to protect the seed until it can germinate with water and proper temperature. Where I differ slightly is with flour. Once the grain is milled it does begin a slow process of degradation as enzymes begin to break down the lipids. Eventually this causes rancidity. How long that process takes depends on heat and humidity. In fact if the mill itself is hot, it will cause an immediate reaction. Bottom line: use whole grain flours in 3-4 months ideally and if hot and humid store in refrigerator. You may not taste the difference but there is nutrient loss due to the work of lipids. If milling your own flour cool the grains first.

    • Maria says:

      Sam, thank you for weighing in. I agree with all you said. The main purpose of this post is to get people to buy and eat whole grain grains and flours and to not be overly concerned about spoilage. After two years in the trenches with my book, I want to reach people who are afraid to buy grains because they have been told all too often that they go bad fast. I have heard this over and over, and I would love to change that. Ultimately, if people cook and bake more with grains, there will be a better turn-around of these ingredients in their kitchens which in turn solves the problem. This is what I am hoping for. Looking much forward to seeing your next book!

      • Sam Fromartz says:

        I think it’s hard to turn back once you start cooking with whole grains. They add so much more flavor and texture possibilities. With white flour, you’re basically playing with a highly digestible carb. So it’s sweet, but just one color on the palate. I am now sprouting spelt, and seeing how the flavor profile changes the longer I let the sprout sit (then grinding and putting into bread dough). It actually increases sweetness too, for it’s essentially the same as malt. But it’s not overpowering. The experiments never stop!

        • Maria says:

          So true, dear Sam — the hardest part is to get people to try ancient grains and flours for the first time! And yes, the experiments never end. I’m in the midst of them again for the second ancient grains book. Looking forward to hear more about your sprouting. I’ve done a lot in my German years but mostly for stir-fries (using fabulous little stacking clay pots), but not much for baking. Much value your thoughts, as always.

  12. Kristin Greene says:

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for the great post! Curious if you have a recommended brand of mason jar? I was doing research after reading this and some sites said to watch out for jars with lids that contain BPA in the lining. Is this a concern of yours?

    Thanks again!

    • BPA lining on the inside of canning lids is a concern! (The older zinc lids, in particular, often contain BPA.) BPA is particularly potent when heated, so storing grains in clean glass jars with any lid is fine. It’s when you start canning with the lids that the worry meter soars. Thankfully, the Ball jar company came out with a new flat lid (the type with the rubber gasket) that is BPA-free. They didn’t change the box design or mark them as BPA free, so look for fresh packaging.

      • Maria says:

        Thank you so much, Cathy! I know how busy you are right now. Your super-fast response is another testament to your amazing work ethic and all-around immense knowledge on this topic. Really great to have you here. Kristin will be thrilled to learn about this.

  13. Angela says:

    Great post, Maria! Very informative. I do store my amaranth grains in the fridge but probably don’t need to. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Maria says:

      Thanks for your note, Angela! Glad to hear this is helpful. Amaranth is a favorite. I’m working on new recipes with the grain for the next book!

  14. Rossella says:

    I really like your post.
    I’ve learned recentrly how to store properly grains. I can only confirm that mason jars are the best solution. You look what it’s inside and if it’s ok immediatly.
    I cannot wait for your second book. I love grains.

    • Maria says:

      How sweet of you – thank you for your kind words, Rosella. Good to know that the word is spreading. Looking forward to being in touch.

  15. Our basement is too humid, and there is no way to store my 50 lb bags of whole grain berries and flours refrigerated. I store them on our kitchen backstairs, leaning against a cool wall. I use large Ikea play bins (perfect size to fit on the shelf of my work station ) for the flour I use most often, and smaller plastic containers for those I use less. I never had ANY turn bad, though I kept some of the less used flours for 2 years or longer.

    • Maria says:

      Karin, I have those large bins from Ikea too and that’s how I store my huge backstack of grains and flours in the basement. I must have 100 pounds there too. No idea but we have a dehumidifier otherwise I would have to find other solutions. I’m so glad to hear that you also never have problems. I have some interesting tests which I will share in the next book. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in!

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