Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep?: Hundred-year-old Advice

Source: Good Housekeeping (July, 1917)

It’s fun to read household advice columns in hundred-year-old magazines. Ever wonder whether whole-wheat flour keeps as well as white flour? Well, here’s an old Q&A which answers that very question:

Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep? 

Is it true that whole-wheat four becomes rancid a few days after milling? This statement was made in public by a representative of a well-known milling company. Why is not this flour more generally milled and why is the price higher than that of white flour? 
L.W.L., New Mexico

It is not true that whole-wheat flour becomes rancid a few days after milling. I have kept whole-wheat flour more than four months in hot weather without damage. It should be kept in a cool, dry place, such as a well-ventilated cellar, in a heavy wood container. The same remark is true of whole corn-meal. Whole-wheat flour is not more generally milled because so few people ask for it. Just as soon as people demand whole-wheat flour and whole corn-meal, the mills and the grocers will supply it. It costs more than white flour because there is so little demand for it. The price should be considerably less than that of white flour. 

Good Housekeeping (September, 1917)


26 thoughts on “Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep?: Hundred-year-old Advice

  1. I have finally gotten back into cooking again and discover that I keep leaning back to the old recipes. I’m not counting gluten, carbs or anything else the Millennials say I should. Guess what…I am really enjoying my meals again!!

    1. Like you, I really enjoy the old recipes – and making a “new” old recipe each week for this blog keeps me from getting in a rut. 🙂

    1. By the late 1800’s there were some large flour mills in the U.S. that sold flour nationally. I’ve seen advertisements where they advertised how white their flour was. Both Gold Medal and Pillsbury flour was available in 1917.

  2. White flour does keep its flavor where as whole wheat flour loses its sweet nutty taste rather quickly . It is best to mill your own wheat and freeze immediately if not used. Whole wheat can be kept in a cool place for awhile without being rancid ,although it loses it sweet flavor. White flour probably is in more of a demand simply that it is easier for the beginner cook to use. You need to know more about whole wheat before use.

    1. Thanks for the tips. I think that you’re right that inexperienced cooks are more likely to be successful when using white flour.

    1. 🙂 Sometimes I chuckle when I read hundred-year-old advice, and other times I think, “Wow, that’s right on the mark.” Then, like now, there was both good advice and bad advice.

  3. That was interesting. We use lots of whole wheat flour. My blood sugar levels are back to the pre-diabetic stage, and I want to keep it that way. I keep the flour in the refrigerator. It seems to stay fresh there.

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that your blood sugar levels are so good. There are a lot of health benefits from whole wheat flour. With a little care, whole wheat flour can be successfully kept for awhile.

    1. Based on the comments that people have made, it definitely sounds like whole wheat flour will keep much longer when stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

  4. Interesting. Years ago I learned all about wheat, proper grinding of wheat, wheat flour, storage, etc. If I remember correctly, wheat flour loses it’s nutritional value after 6 days. I wonder how accurate that is? If I have extra flour after I grind wheat, I store it in the freezer. I will say that there is a big difference between freshly ground wheat flour and wheat flour from the store. Both in taste and quality of baked goods.

    1. Whew, if whole wheat flour losses a lot of nutritional value in just a week, I hate to think about how few nutrients whole wheat flour that I buy at the store may have. I wonder how old, on average, flour sold in the store is. I’ve never ground my own wheat – your comment about the difference in taste makes me want try to freshly ground flour.

      1. I don’t know how accurate my memory on that is, but what I recall is that most wheat flour is about 30 days past the grind date by the time it gets to the store shelf. There used to be a Food Storage/Self Reliance store near me that would allow you to see how wheat grinders work and I think you could buy freshly ground flour from them (in an effort to help convince you to buy a wheat grinder). Maybe you have one near you and could try out some freshly ground wheat flour?

  5. I wonder why overly-refined foods were already gaining favor back then. Was it truly the public tastes, or was “Big Agri” starting to find footing with cheapening the product both nutritionally and economically, hence forming tastes for what eventually became what I grew up on in the 50s and 60s. I ate totally refined white bread: Strohman’s Sunbeam, which was so poofy my sister and I packed it into bread balls and watched Saturday cartoons, munching on them. Yuk! 🙂 Nowadays, pass the flax and millet, please!

    1. I tend to agree with you that large companies were using advertising to change people’s preferences and tastes. That said, I can remember driving past the Strohman factory in Williamsport years ago, and there was always this wonderful smell coming from the plant that made me hungry for Strohman’s bread.

  6. As always, I enjoy not only your post but the comment section. I too, keep my wwflour in the fridge, but waws glad to read about the 30 day window in one of the comments.

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