How to Store Flour, Sugar, and Other Baking Ingredients So They Last

Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the shelf life of common baking staples.

<p>Emma Farrer / Getty Images</p>

Emma Farrer / Getty Images

Whether you count your stand mixer as a prized possession or you break out a whisk a few times a year, you’ve probably wondered just how long pantry staples like flour and sugar actually last. Also, is that “expired” cream of tartar still okay to use?

Although baking ingredients often come with “best-by” dates, these usually matter less than you think, especially if you’re storing the ingredients properly — most often, repeat with us, in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Read on for everything you need to know about the shelf life of common baking ingredients before tackling your next baking project.

Related: A Guide to Storing Milk and Other Dairy Products in the Fridge

How long does flour last?

White, refined flour like all-purpose flour or cake flour typically lasts for one to two years. Once opened, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place — you can keep it in the fridge or freezer to prolong the shelf life, but the pantry works totally fine if space is at a premium. Refined flour is unlikely to spoil, but discard if it smells or looks musty or has any signs of mold or bugs.

Whole-grain flours have a much shorter shelf life since they contain the bran’s germ and bran, which eventually oxidize. These will keep for three months to one year, while nut flours and gluten-free flours will typically last three to six months. Once you’ve opened them, store whole-grain, nut, or gluten-free flours in the fridge or freezer in airtight containers.

How long does sugar last?

Sugar — granulated, brown, or powdered — lasts indefinitely since it doesn’t support microbial growth, but it has a best use-by date of about two years. Sugar also absorbs odors and moisture easily, so the fridge isn’t an ideal storage spot. Store in a cool, dry place like the pantry in an airtight container to prevent dreaded lumps. If you do have hardened brown sugar on your hands, try these tried-and-true tips for softening it.

How long do cocoa powder and chocolate chips last?

Cocoa powder contains flavanol, which is a natural preservative, so it lasts for a long time once opened, about three years. Though it’s often labeled with a best-by date, which will indicate its peak quality, you don’t necessarily need to toss expired cocoa powder if you’re making a chocolate dessert. In a Cook’s Illustrated test, tasters were able to tell the difference six years after the best-by date had passed, but not two years. As with other baking staples, you’ll want to store cocoa powder in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

Chocolate chips can last for around two to four years, when stored in (once again) a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Don’t store them in the fridge or freezer since they’re subject to something called “blooming” from extreme temperature changes, which can cause the chocolate to have dusting or streaking on its surface. If you do see blooming, though, you can still use chocolate chips for cookies and other baked goods — the flavor and appearance will just be slightly affected.

How long does cornstarch last?

Cornstarch is the MVP of countless sweet and savory dishes that need thickening, from pie filling to stews and gravies. As with sugar, it lasts indefinitely if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Related: A Guide to Food Expiration Dates

Do baking soda and baking powder expire?

Baking powder and baking soda will last for about two years in a cool, dry place like the pantry. Since these are active ingredients, you’ll want to keep the best-by date in mind. A good trick for checking if baking soda is still active is by adding a little hot water and vinegar. If it starts bubbling, you’re good to go. You can do the same for baking powder with hot water, no vinegar needed. Again, if it fizzes, it’s good.

Does yeast expire?

Because yeast is a living thing, it does eventually die, whether you purchase fresh, active, or instant. While you can rely on your senses to tell if most baking staples are fresh, yeast is a little trickier — and can be the difference between pillowy cinnamon rolls and sad, unrisen disks.

Dry active yeast has a shelf life of around one year, while instant yeast will last for about two years. Fresh yeast lasts about two weeks in the fridge and shouldn’t be frozen. Though you’ll want to pay close attention to the expiration date of yeast, active or instant yeast can last well past the best-by date if properly stored. To see if the yeast is still active, proof it by adding one teaspoon of sugar and one envelope of yeast to 1/4 cup warm water. Wait 10 minutes. If it bubbles up, it’s still good to use.

Does cream of tartar go bad?

Cream of tartar is a dry, acidic byproduct of winemaking that’s often used in meringues and other desserts to help speed up stabilization. It’s usually called for in small amounts, so you naturally might be wondering if the jar from that one time you made snickerdoodles over the holidays is still good to use. The good news is that cream of tartar lasts almost indefinitely if stored properly, in a cool, dry place. If it’s well past its expiration date, rely on your senses — it should smell slightly acidic and be white and powdery.

Does vanilla extract expire?

Vanilla extract and other alcohol-based extracts will keep for about one year opened and two years unopened. As with other pantry staples, you’ll want to store these at room temperature, away from heat and light. If you’re not sure if it’s still good, give it a sniff — if the smell is particularly faint, it’s probably time to invest in a new bottle.

Happy baking!

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.