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Keep It Fresh: How to Store Baking Ingredients

When is the last time you looked at the expiration date on your bag of flour or sugar?

Storing baking ingredients

Illustrations and photos via CakeSpy unless otherwise noted

Learning how to store baking ingredients is important to ensure freshness and the best possible outcome in your cooking or baking. With perishable items such as eggs or milk, it’s easy to know when an ingredient is past its prime: just look at the expiration date. But with pantry items, such as flour, sugar, baking soda, or baking powder, there are ways to store them to ensure the best possible result.

Here’s a guide to the proper storage of common pantry items used for baking.

Flour

Flour

Photo via Bluprint blog

All-purpose flour

Flour bags are typically labeled with an expiration date of about a year from purchase date, but if you’re a frequent baker, the flour will probably be long gone by then. For the most part, keeping flour in a pantry is fine for a few weeks; storing it in an airtight container will discourage bugs, dust, or other debris to find its way into the container.

The key exception would be if you live in a high humidity area. Keep your flour in an airtight container, and store in either the refrigerator or freezer to avoid clumping and to prevent too much moisture from getting into the flour. Let the flour come to room temperature before using in a recipe.

If you are an infrequent baker or unsure of how the weather might affect your flour, it won’t hurt it to keep it in the refrigerator.

Whole wheat flour, whole grain flours and nut flours

Whole wheat, whole grain, and nut flours have a much shorter shelf life than all purpose flour, and will benefit from storage in airtight containers or freezer bags in the refrigerator or even the freezer. This is especially important for nut flours, which can go rancid. Properly stored, they can last 6 months or longer.

Sugar

Sugar

Granulated white sugar and confectioners’ sugar

Sugar will keep indefinitely (or at least up to a year) if stored properly. Store both granulated and confectioners’ sugar in a cool, dry place, in an airtight container or freezer bag, away from moisture of any sort. It can develop clumps when exposed to moisture. Keep the sugar way from spices and pungent-smelling foods: it can absorb scents from other foods, and nobody wants their buttercream tasting like curry. It is not suggested to refrigerate sugar, as this can encourage lumps to form.

Brown sugar

Brown sugar has a much higher moisture content than granulated or confectioners’ sugar, so it’s extra-important to keep it from forming lumps. First off, keep brown sugar in an airtight container. This will help seal in the moisture and make it last longer.

Another method is to store brown sugar in the freezer and let it thaw overnight or several hours before baking. If you decide you need some of the chilled sugar right away, you can heat it in the microwave (no paper towels or plastic wrap needed) to thaw it out quickly.

If your brown sugar has hardened, check out this post on how to soften brown sugar.

Leaveners

Baking soda and powder

Photo via Bluprint blog

Baking soda

Keep your baking soda for baking (as opposed to a box you might put in the fridge to capture odors) in a cool, dry place such as a cupboard, with the lid closed. It will keep for up to a year. To test if your baking soda is still active, pour a view drops of vinegar over 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. It will bubble vigorously if it is fresh.

Baking powder

Keep your baking powder in a cool, dry place such as a cupboard, with the lid closed. To test if your baking powder is still active, mix 1/2 teaspoon baking powder with 1/4 cup water. It will bubble if it is fresh.

Note: Check out this post on the differences between baking soda and baking powder.

Yeast

Active dry yeast packets or powder will come with an expiration date; it can be kept in a cool, dark place until this date. If you live in an area with temperature fluctuations or high humidity, stay on the safe side and store it in the refrigerator.

Fresh yeast cakes can be kept at room temperature until opened, at which point its time is ticking: most manufacturers suggest that you use it within 10 days.

To test to see if yeast is still active, dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (110°-115°). Sprinkle with 1 packet or 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes. If it bubbles, it’s good to go–just remember to reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1/2 cup.

Flavorings

Vanilla extract

Extracts

Liquid extracts such as vanilla will keep for a year or longer. They are best stored in a cool, dark place. Avoid storing it near a heat source (for instance, a cupboard directly over an oven). Do not store in the refrigerator or freezer, as this can make your extract cloudy.

For whole vanilla beans, store them in a cool, dark place away from high heat or cold temperatures. Once opened, keep in an airtight container to keep them moist.

Spices

Spices don’t go “bad” per se, but they will lose their flavor and potency. Unopened containers of dried whole spices can last up to two years, depending on the type of spice.

Store spices in a dark place at cool room temperature. Whole spices last longer than ground; once ground, it’s suggested that you use most spices within six months for the best flavor.

Chocolate

White chocolate

Chocolate will keep for a very long time: for white or milk chocolate, up to 9 months, and dark chocolate is said to last for upwards of 10 years (although who’s going to have chocolate around for 10 years without using it?). Keep your baking chocolate in a cool, dark place, tightly wrapped. Do not refrigerate or freeze.

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Do you have any tips for storing baking ingredients? 

5 Comments

Ck Wilson

As an infrequent baker, this information is very useful. Thank you!

Reply
Pamela

Even as a constant baker I still follow some of these rules and even some more as I try to buy in large bulk whenever possible. MANY years ago my mother began keeping items such as nuts, some flours, coconut, and almost anything that can be frozen in the freezer. I keep almost all of my flour except for one container that is used all the time in the freezer. I keep all of my gluten free flours in the freezer since some of them are made from nuts. Nuts of almost all kinds will keep for ages in the freezer and even for someone who does a lot of baking they still seem to get stale too soon and too easily. Depending on my stock I’ve kept raisins, dates, figs and other dried fruits frozen. I keep except what is being currently used of puff pastry and phyllo dough frozen. When you check it out it really is amazing the things that can be frozen. I had a grandmother who would even freeze her extra milk and cheeses. (I personally never cared for the milk afterwards though). Personally I’d like to find a way to keep for long term storage extra lemons and limes and even oranges. This also goes for sour cream, buttermilk and heavy cream. I like to stock up when I can get items on a great special price but then keeping those things doesn’t always work out well. It’s always a worry of that trade-off between costs and supply.

Reply
Pamela

This is a P.S. to my previous comment. I bet many of you didn’t know you could freeze potato chips, in unopened bags, and when you get them out months down the road they will be as fresh as the day they were purchased. My mother discovered this many many years ago when they would entertain at Christmas or other large parties in the summer. If she would have unopened bags of potato chips she put them in the freezer and the first time she got one out, we were SHOCKED at how perfect and nice they were. We now bake ahead (within a reasonable time) and freeze the cookies and have frozen other snack foods at times. As I said previously, it’s amazing what CAN be frozen if you give it a try. However, it’s worth checking out what can’t be frozen because there are things that don’t do well with this system. Good luck!

Reply
Carmen

Very useful information.

Reply
NancyL

I began “batching” my holiday cookie dry ingredients in ziplock bags years ago. This way I have one afternoon of measuring out all dry ingredients and spices, then there are bags all set up and ready to go – so when I bake, I am just starting from the butter / eggs / vanilla etc. and the dry ingredients are ready.

My question is this: I have a couple of bags that I prepped last year and never used! They have been stored in the fridge, sealed, for a year. I’m planning to pull them out and bake them up. I know the spices will be less fresh, but I’m expecting that they will be basically fine. Are there rules about storing baking soda combined with flour, or anything like that?

thanks.

Reply

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