Does Flour Belong In Your Food Storage?

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The short answer is maybe but probably not. I’m really not that fickle, I can give you a straight answer most of the time. However, like some things in life wheat flour is a little complicated, at least it has become that way in recent years. So let me back-up and first explain what wheat flour is and how it is made, then you can decide for yourself and I’ll share the decision I’ve made for my family.

When I say flour most of us think of wheat flour, that is flour made from wheat berries. However, flour is just ground up grain (these days it can be ground up anything, such as potato flour). So you can have many different flours made from different things. Some examples, ground spelt is called spelt flour, ground quinoa is called quinoa flour and even ground corn is called corn flour or cornmeal (although cornmeal is usually ground a little coarser than we would call a flour).

Most of these grains can be added to wheat flour to make bread. You can use only these other grains to make bread but the bread is not exactly what we think of when we think of sandwich bread. For example, cornbread is not like sandwich bread. Most grains will produce a bread-like substance but they might not be what you expect or what you desire.

These days with all the celiac disease and gluten intolerance there are recipes for gluten free (wheat free) bread, but they usually require ingredients that are not really “storable”; they might be hard to find and the jury is still out on whether they are really healthy alternatives (such as xanthan gum). There really is not a bread (as we know it—light fluffy sandwich bread) without some kind of wheat.

Now that we have established that most bread that we currently eat or would desire to eat in a crisis situation has some amount of wheat flour in it the question is do we store wheat flour or wheat berries? (Note: people with celiac disease should not eat wheat bread in a crisis situation, and there are alternate foods to store to get the same calories and nutrition that wheat provides.)

Wheat flour is not exactly like other flours. Most flour is produced from the ground up version of the entire grain. The ground-up version of the entire grain of wheat is called whole wheat flour. White wheat flour, known generally as white flour, is not the same as whole wheat flour. Since wheat flour is the main ingredient in our modern day bread, and really, all baking, we have cultivated it and made it into something that only an industrialized society can produce.

White flour is made by grinding only the soft inner part of the kernel called endosperm. To get at the endosperm the bran, the kernel’s hard skin, and the germ, the kernel’s seed, have to be removed. From this ground endosperm, called semolina, various white flours are made. The three most common types of flour are bread flour (having a high protein content), pastry flour (having a low protein content) and all-purpose flour (having a protein content somewhere in between bread and pastry flour). Bread protein is called gluten.

Once the bran and kernel of the wheat berry are removed the semolina is ground again and again with high powered, heated grinders to produce white flour. It is then treated with chlorine oxide so companies don’t have to wait for the aging process. (The chlorine oxide treatment of white flour is banned in Europe.) This also turns the white flour white (although it would still turn white if it was left to age properly). I should back up here a bit and say that this is not the first chemical applied to the wheat. The wheat is treated with a fungicide and usually pesticide in the wheat silo.

White flour is often fortified with vitamins and minerals because the process of making it took all the nutrients out. However, don’t be fooled. Most vitamins and minerals that are added to fortify a food are hard to digest and most do not even get absorbed by the body. However, because all the unstable nutrition was removed this makes the white flour very self-stable to the tune of 10 years or so.

Of course, we’ve all heard that white flour (which is mostly starch/sugar) spikes your blood sugar as it is high on the glycemic index. It has no enzymes and is hard for your body to digest. It is not a healthy food!

There you have it! Through modern technology, we’ve made white flour almost as healthy as eating cardboard, but it has a shelf-life of 10 years or more. So should you store it? If you don’t have a wheat grinder and you are new to prepping storing 20lbs of white flour is probably not a bad idea. That flour can get you through any short-term disaster. However, I would put all of my prep money toward a grinder and then make glue or play dough out of that 20lbs of white flour when you have obtained a wheat grinder. I do not store white flour for my family.

I always hope that you are eating what you store and storing what you eat. I pray you are eating whole wheat flour. However, please do not store whole wheat flour! Since the brand and the germ are not removed the flour has oil from those parts of the kernel and will go rancid rather quickly.
As a matter of fact, it is not recommended that you grind your wheat berries until you are ready to use them unless you store the freshly ground whole wheat flour in the freezer. If you have purchased whole wheat flour from the store and thought it had an awful taste chances are that you got some flour that had already begun to go rancid. It actually happens more than you think. I’ve picked up several bags that were already starting to go bad.

Once you get the hang of grinding your own wheat you should consider sprouting your wheat first for maximum nutrition.

You might be wondering about vital wheat gluten. Most whole wheat bread recipes (including mine here and here) call for you to add extra protein to the dough to give it that light fluffy look and taste. Should you store vital wheat gluten?

Vital wheat gluten is the protein of the kernel in a powdered form. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starches dissolve, leaving just the gluten behind. Essentially it is a protein powder. I do store gluten, but everything in my food storage is rotated and I do not keep food longer than five years. I have my doubts as to how long it would last if there was a complete collapse.

In reality, it is much healthier for us to eat that heavy unleavened bread we have heard about in the bible. There are other alternatives such as using natural yeast, however, a bread starter might be difficult to maintain in a collapse. All the more reason to learn how to make one now. If you are familiar with the process now you’ll be more likely to succeed when conditions are not ideal.

  • Mike the Gardener says:

    I went out and bought a wheat grinder and now grind up my flour as I need it. So much different in taste and flavor. I keep about 50 pounds of whole grain in storage. It’s fairly inexpensive and 50 pounds goes a long way.

  • ksldr says:

    This is a good reminder of what while flour really is. I am very interested in your statement that wheat is treated with a pesticide and fungicide in the silo. I’d like to do more research on that. Would you mind sharing the source of that information. According to the Kansas Wheat Commission website, there is a waiting period between the application of a fungicide and harvest. http://www.kswheat.com/news.php?id=103. Of course I prefer chemical free or organic wheat. I’ve felt a little (tiny) bit better knowing wheat is not GMO at this time but I’d like to learn more. Thanks

  • I am gluten free so I do not buy wheat, but I store many grains in canning jars that I put in a steam canner and seal. I just used some brown rice flour from two years ago that was delicious

  • sandra says:

    Awesome article!
    I’m fairly knowledgeable regarding food storage, and this is an extremely important subject for newbies, and even those who may have a little experience under their belts.

    I have about 50 conversations a day on food storage, across a wide range of subjects, and this subject: storage of flour, inevitably comes up at least 3 to 4 times.

    The recommended amount of whole grains per person/per year is roughly 300 lb. I would tell you that that would or should be your min goal to shoot for. Unless you are celiac or have an allergy to whole wheat grain, you’ll find that whole grains will be like little gold nuggets, and you cant ever have enough of them!

  • Kathy in Idaho says:

    I have a question about bread flour. I have some old bread flour, I can’t use it for bread, but can I use it as a replacement for white flour in cookies and quick breads?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Kathy,
      It depends on how old it is. If it’s really old you might consider discarding it. You really want to store wheat berries, not flour.

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