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Never Put This Common Baking Ingredient in Your Pantry, Experts Warn

This so called "pantry staple" is anything but. Here's why you've been storing it all wrong.

When you're preparing to bake, you probably head straight for your pantry for the bulk of your recipe's ingredients. Yet experts warn that there's one common baking ingredient that you should never store in your pantry. That's because this one food runs a high risk of going rancid when stored improperly—leading to tainted flavors and, in some cases, health issues as well. Read on to find out which common pantry item you're likely storing wrong and how to spot a problem with this popular ingredient.

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Never put whole grain flour in your pantry, experts say.

whole grain flour things you're storing wrong

While you may think nothing of putting a bag of flour in your cabinet or pantry until you need it again, experts say that it's a major mistake to store whole grain flour in either of these spots. That's because this type of flour is prone to rancidity, meaning it will go bad much faster if it's left unrefrigerated.

"When grains are ground, their interiors are exposed to the air," Harold McGee, PhD, a food scientist and author, tells The Chicago Tribune. "The whole grains contain the germ and the bran, both of which are rich in oils that are especially prone to oxidizing and going rancid. So you end up with off flavors very quickly in whole grain flours compared to refined flours," he explained.

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You should also refrigerate open packaged foods that contain whole grain flour.

chocolate chip cookies

In addition to refrigerating whole grain flour, you'd be wise to refrigerate any open packaged foods that contain whole grain flour, like cookies, crackers, and cakes. The oils found in these foods are also prone to rapid rancidity—especially when they contain polyunsaturated oils, such as nut oil or olive oils.

"Healthy" packaged snacks often include these ingredients, given that they're often considered nutritionally superior to refined white flour and saturated fats or trans fats. While they may be better for your body, their shelf life is significantly shorter than snacks that used refined flours and vegetable oils.

Train your sense of smell to recognize rancidity, experts suggest.

smell food

Part of the problem is that many Americans have become accustomed to the taste and smell of rancidity. Experts say that one way to lower your odds of eating a rancid food is to train your nose to recognize its smell. "We assume that rancid flavors are normal," McGee says, "because, in some cases, that's what we've gotten used to."

So what should you look out for? Integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil, MD, told The Chicago Tribune that rancid food often gives off "the smell of oil paint," however faintly. "Linseed oil, which is the same as flax oil, is the basis of oil paint. It's highly unsaturated and so it oxidizes fast when exposed to the air," he explains.

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Changing your storage habits can keep your flour fresh for longer.

Lady inspecting pantry items

Though whole grain flour may go bad faster than its refined counterpart, that doesn't mean you should stop buying it. There are several things you can do to keep this baking ingredient fresher for longer.

First, only buy what you need. Unless you bake daily, this means you probably want to opt for the smallest package available. Second, seal your leftovers in an airtight container or bag and refrigerate them. Finally, if you do choose to keep your whole grain flour in the pantry, always be sure to transfer it from its original paper bag to an airtight glass or plastic container. Keep it in a cool, dry, dark place until use, and always check for signs of spoilage before using it in your next recipe.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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