Like many people, I tend to do most of my baking during the holidays. The combination of cold weather and fleeting daylight makes the thought of spending a few hours baking up something delicious seem extra appealing! :-)
But one of the problems with my holiday-centric baking habit is that my baking ingredients don’t see a lot of action during the rest of the year. So every year, I find myself wondering whether the slightly dusty boxes and bags on my baking shelf are still fine to use!
I have to assume I’m not the only one who has asked themselves that question, so I thought it might be helpful to uncover the answers! In today’s post, you’ll learn everything you need to know to determine whether your baking ingredients are fresh enough or require replacing!
How To Tell If Your Baking Ingredients Are Fresh Enough To Use
▶︎ Salt & Sugar
Good news: there’s no need to worry about either the freshness of your salt or sugar! Neither ingredient is subject to spoiling or really changing at all over time.
Sugar and salt may form clumps over time, but you can easily break them up and keep on using it.
▶︎ Vanilla & Other Extracts
Pure vanilla extract has a high alcohol content, which preserves it nearly indefinitely. As long as it is kept in a sealed bottle, you shouldn’t have to worry about it spoiling.
The same cannot be said about imitation vanilla and other flavored extracts. These typically stay good for 6 months to 1 year, so be aware of the expiration dates on your extracts.
The main threat to flour freshness is rancidity, a chemical change that occurs when flour is exposed to air, light, or heat. Rancid flour smells noticeably sour, so a quick smell test can tell you whether your flour is fine to use or not!
Refined wheat flours (like all-purpose flour) typically stay fresh for 1-2 years in an airtight container, or 7-8 months if kept in the bag. Whole grain flours only last a couple months at room temperature, but will stay good for up to 6 months in the freezer.
Apart from going rancid, the other main threat to flour is insect activity. If you spot any creepy crawlies or signs of insect activity in your flour, toss it out ASAP!
▶︎ Leavening Agents
There are two types of leavening agents you might have stored in your pantry or cupboard: biological (such as yeast) and chemical (like baking powder and baking soda). Neither type will spoil like other ingredients do, but they do have a tendency to weaken over time.
Yeast is a living organism, and its ability to consume sugars and produce gas is why it makes such an effective leavening agent. The problem is that yeast dies out a little bit at a time, making it less effective as time goes on.
To test if your yeast is still active, add 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1/2 cup of warm water. Add one packet (or 2 1/4 teaspoons) of yeast to the sugar water, and let stand for 10 minutes.
If there’s a foamy layer on the surface after 10 minutes, it’s still fresh enough to use!
Baking Powder & Baking Soda
While these baking staples aren’t the same thing, they are pretty close cousins. Both baking powder and baking soda cause baked good to rise through a chemical reaction, and that reaction can become less potent over time.
But there’s a simple test you can do to ensure these ingredients will produce the reaction you need! Just add a large pinch of baking powder to a small bowl of water, or a large pinch of baking soda to a small bowl of vinegar.
If they start fizzing and bubbling, you’re good to keep using it! If there’s no reaction, it’s time to toss it out.
▶︎ Oils & Fats
Both liquid oils and solid fats (such as shortening) are likely to go rancid over time. The shelf life of liquid oils varies, but as a general rule, you can expect a bottle to stay good for about one year.
Solid shortening like Crisco will also stay good for a year or so, or longer if the package is unopened.
- Use Airtight Storage Containers. Most baking ingredients will last longer if you store them in airtight containers. Learn about my favorite pantry storage containers here.
- Add Useful Labels. Make sure to label your storage containers so you know exactly what’s inside. Add a date to your label too, either the expiration date from the original packaging or the date you put it in the container. (Either one will help you determine how fresh it is later on!)
Are there any baking ingredients in your pantry or cupboard that need replacing?