How To Buy And Store Baking Ingredients

Fresher is nearly always better

Food deteriorates over time. Sometimes it does so very slowly but it does deteriorate. Expiration dates and "best by" dates are misleading. Food does not stay magically fresh up until the expiration date and then it’s suddenly bad. Think of it as straight-line event. The fresher, the better.

Generally, expiration dates and "best by" dates are not governed by regulations. They are set by the processor who has its own agenda, are subject to judgments, and storage conditions. Comparing expiration dates between brands is not reliable. Manufacturing dates are a much better guide but are rarely available.

It is a good idea to check the expiration dates of a particular product on the shelf. The oldest products tend to get shoved to the back of the shelf where they get older still.

Buy from suppliers that have a higher turnover. Chances are their ingredients will be fresher. Buy from processors and distributors when possible.

Know what makes food go bad.

Vitamins deteriorate over time. Of greater concern to most of us, is the oxidation that creates rancidity. Rancid, stale-tasting products don’t just taste bad, they can be bad for you. If it tastes stale or smells rancid, throw it out.

Products with high levels of fat are more susceptible to oxidation. Flour, especially white flour, with low fat levels will keep a long time in the right conditions. High-fat products like butter will not.

Oxidation is accelerated by heat, light, and exposure to oxygen. Packaging is important. Mylar and metal containers are much better than most plastics and paper. Storage conditions are critical. Fatty foods are very susceptible to heat. Ten degrees can make a real difference. Nuts will last a long time in the refrigerator but will deteriorate very rapidly in a warm cupboard above the stove.

For our personal use, we store oils, nuts, and dried fruits (once opened) in the refrigerator. We store cornmeal and flour products in a cool room downstairs which was built for storage and rarely gets above 55 degrees. Many baking mixes will last a very long time in that room. By the way, if you refrigerate chocolate, it will get a white dusting called bloom. While not attractive, the chocolate is still good.

Be willing to experiment.

When we started this business, we spent over a year working on ingredients and products. If there are lessons from all that trial and error, they are: There is great deal of difference in quality and you don’t know which products are best without trying them. It may be tedious to keep trying different flours or chocolates but the quest is worth it.

The more you know about ingredients, the easier it is to find the best.

Understanding flour or cinnamon or chocolate is essential to buying the right product and makes buying quality products easier. That’s beyond the scope of a short article but our How to Bake e-book covers baking ingredients extensively. It’s free. If you don’t have a copy, we recommend that you get one.

Copyright 2003-2007, The Prepared Pantry ( ). Published by permission

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About The Author, Dennis Weaver -
Dennis Weaver is a baker, a recipe designer, and a writer. He has written many baking guides and How to Bake, a comprehensive baking and reference e-book--available free at The Prepared Pantry which sells baking supplies and tools and has a free online baking library.