A few weeks ago, I was chatting with our very own Fat Kira* – one of the editors of Fat Girl Food (you can buy your own copy here). We were talking about pantries and the difference between Emergency Preparedness and Food Storage. While on that subject, she asked how she could best store enough flour for both storage and preparedness, since she does a lot of her own baking (including bread).
*Fat Kira's only 98lbs soaking wet, but she's totally a Fat Girl at heart, so that counts.
The short answer is: don’t.
I know you don’t come here for short answers; you come here to laugh, and occasionally be bored to tears when I get all atwitter about subjects you don’t care about. Today, I’ll try to do more of the former and less of the latter.
***WHEAT DISCLAIMER*** Regardless of the nation-wide obsession right now with ‘whole grain’ everything, there’s some stuff about wheat you should know – even if you don’t have a gluten allergy.
Strictly speaking, everybody’s body is super lazy, which means that if you eat nothing but highly-refined grains (white flour, white sugar, yadda yadda) and suddenly switch to a lot of whole grains, you will be very unhappy for a couple of weeks.
Since your GI Track isn’t used to having to work at all to digest grain, suddenly plunking down a complex molecule (like whole wheat) will cause you gas, bloating, etc. No, healthy food isn’t trying to kill you – you just need to build up your intake of whole grains slowly. Just like beans which give occasional bean-eaters gas, but don’t affect daily bean-eaters at all.
But let’s plunge ahead, assuming you can already handle the digestive rigors of whole wheat in your diet. Why would I, the biggest proponent of food storage, NOT advocate storing flour, especially when I constantly go on and on (and even devote one whole post) to storing what you actually use?
It all comes down to shelf life. Flour, even highly-refined flour, has a small amount of fat in it; that fat has been exposed to air, which means it will go rancid lickety-split (in pantry time, that is). Whole wheat flour will go rancid even faster, because the wheat germ (not to be confused with germ germs, which are gross) has oodles of rancidity-prone fat compared to the refined, germ-less stuff.
Now, if you wrap your flour tightly in air-tight plastic, vacuum all the existing air out, and store it in a freezer, you could possibly get up to 5 years out of it – MAX. But what a waste of freezer space! In a Food Storage sense, where you still have access to electricity regularly enough to run a cotton-pickin’ freezer, you’ve definitely got the resources to use an electric grain mill to grind your own flour as needed, and you’ve probably got the time.
And if you’re in an Emergency Situation (Zombies are roaming free or whatnot), odds are that you are (1) not at home, (2) on the move, and/or (3) otherwise not able to cook stuff that requires flour.
When your nutrient-dense food bars run out, you’re going to end up relying on camp-made meat-jerky and foraged vegetation, so don’t even worry about flour.
Now, backtracking to Food Storage for a second, notice I said you shouldn’t bother over-stocking flour. I keep about 3 months worth of my various flours on hand, which gives me plenty of time to use them before I have to worry about bugs, rancidity, etc (hooray Vegas! Land of the nothing). But I don’t stress about it, and if/when I run out, I go and buy more flour – even though I have buckets of whole wheat berries stored in my garage. Why? I’ll tell you why.
For most pantry items, rotation is critical. Wheat berries, on the other hand, are good for 25+ years. That’s not including the oxygen-free Mylar bag they’re vacuum-packed in, or the 6 gallon air-tight, rodent-proof, food-grade-plastic pail the Mylar bag is stored in. That gives me 35-ish years before my wheat berries start to lose nutrients. Considering that a 50lb uber-proofed bucket of wheat runs less than $20 and needs to be rotated a few times a century, that's the kind of insurance I can really get behind.
How can whole wheat berries last for so long without going rancid, if they’ve got even more rancidity-prone germ than fickle, fickle whole wheat flour? That’s easy – the secret lies in their whole-ness.
That’s right – the fat in the wheat germ is protected by layer after layer of hard, dense, very protective bran, and none of that fat has ever even looked sideways at an oxygen molecule. That pristine, hermetic seal on each and every individual kernel of wheat is exactly what gives it its longevity.
Now, those hard, dense, very protective layers will come back to bite you when you try to make flour – unless you’ve invested in a grain mill. There are 2.5 basic kinds of grain mills out there.
These guys are nice because they’re really easy. You select how fine you want your flour, you fill the hopper with whole wheat berries, and you press go. Sure, they can be a little loud, but before you’ve finished gathering up your other ingredients, BOOM – fresh flour. However, if your power is out (either temporarily or permanently), this is no longer a mill; it’s a paperweight. A $300 paperweight.
Yep, they run on either electricity or can be converted to run off a manual crank. Even when powered, they tend to run much more slowly than an electric-only mill, but they’re supposedly a lot quieter, too. They still cost about $300. Sure, you could save money by grinding all your flour at home, but with already-ready-already store flour running $1.50/pound on sale, yeah, you’d have to be using an awful lot of flour to make that a worthwhile investment, especially seeing as you’d still have to buy the wheat berries, and pay for the electricity.
At $50 and no need for electricity, this is my mill, and I love it (unpaid endorsement, by the way). It’s quiet, fast to set up/take down, easy to clean, and stores compactly – it fits perfectly in the little gap I have between the support posts on the shelves where I store my wheat and rice. Even with all my <3s for this thing, I still don't use it to save 50 cents per pound on my flour - because my time is worth WAY more than that.
The instructions say that it mills 1 cup of flour in only 2 minutes; maybe I’m really lazy (surprise) or slow (also not a shocker), but I find it easiest to do 2 millings for flour – a coarse one, and then re-mill that into my final bread flour – so I run about 5 minutes per cup. Some people complain that a manual mill is tiring, so let me be as clear about this as possible: I AM REALLY OUT OF SHAPE. I don’t find this mill difficult at all, especially with the 2-step milling. If you can pedal an upside-down bike with one hand without feeling fatigued, you can probably handle the worst this mill has to offer.