All occasional bakers have a common gripe – bags and boxes of leftover flour, baking powder, butter and other bulk ingredients in the kitchen cabinet. Sometimes, we forget about them for months or even years, until we shake off our past baking failures and attempt to bake again.
But did you know, these common baking ingredients have expiry dates? That includes dry goods such as flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Just because these ingredients are in powder or milled form, does not mean they will last forever.
What if you don’t want to waste your ingredients? Or if the baking supplies store has run out of your favourite organic flour shipped in from overseas, and is unsure when the next restock will come due to ongoing travel restrictions?
Not to worry – here is a rundown of some common baking supplies and their expiry dates, and what you should do with them if they have gone past their prime. Most baking ingredients are safe to consume past their expiry dates, as these dates are determined by their manufacturer to ensure quality and taste control – as long as it is not mouldy, or has not gone rancid, you should be fine.
Refined flours such as all-purpose flour, bread flour or even whole wheat flours, are generally good for consumption two to three months past their expiry dates. Many bakers don’t pay attention to these dates and store these flours in jars or containers without indicating when they will expire. Love Wholesome contributor Jo-ann Huang noted that she made some baguettes with old bread flour, and the results turned out fantastic.
As a rule of thumb, if the flour smells slightly foul, or has a yellow or grey tinge, it could be a sign of mould developing. To prevent the flour from going rancid, you could store them in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place. Always bake thoroughly, to ensure your baked goodies are safe to eat.
Baking powder fizzes out after a typical shelf life of 9 to 12 months. If you want to check if it still works, stir half a teaspoon into a cup of hot water. If it bubbles and releases carbon dioxide, you could use it. If your baking powder is no longer effective, you could use it as baking soda instead, as baking powder is basically baking soda with an added reactive ingredient. Baking soda has many household uses, too, such as eliminating laundry odours or as a cleaning agent.
Store-bought food colouring has no raw ingredients, so they are generally safe to use for years, even past their expiry dates, This works out well for home bakers, who use only a few drops of colouring at a time.
Don’t want to get rid of the pure vanilla essence that you sourced from an artisanal baking supplies seller in Hawaii? The good news is that food flavourings can last for years, with some extracts like pure vanilla extract improving in potency over time.
Cocoa powder will last three years if it is unopened, and about one year if open. Store it in a cool dry place to make it last as long as possible. But it will lose its flavour over time. Make sure you buy the high-quality stuff so a little goes a long way. If mould appears or if it develops a funky odour, discard.
Baking chocolate contains no dairy ingredients, which extends its shelf life up to a year after its expiry date if the package remains unopened. If you don’t intend to use it for a long time, store it in the freezer.
As a dairy product, butter is more susceptible to spoilage than dry items or food extracts. But as it needs to be chilled for storage purposes, you can extend its shelf life for several months after its expiry date. It can keep even longer if you freeze it, or if the butter has been fortified with oil.
But if you are concerned, check for any odours or changes in colour. Expired butter has a sour taste – it won’t make you sick if you consume small amounts, but it will change the taste of your cakes and pastries. If there is mould growing on the butter, discard it immediately.
Fresh yeast or sourdough starter can keep for years if you freeze it or dry it. All you need to do is to reactivate it by feeding it some water and flour. For instant yeast, it may lose its leavening power if it is past its expiry date. You could test it by adding it to some water. If it bubbles, it is still alive. If not, you could discard it. But if you really don’t want to waste the yeast, add some newly-bought yeast to the old one to resuscitate it.
Nuts can be stored for months and years in the freezer. But if it smells foul, discard them. Nuts contain oils and can cause stomach irritations if these oils go bad. If you want to consume stale nuts that have not gone off, you could pop them in the oven or heat them up on a pan at a low temperature to revive their flavours.
Heavy or sour cream
Dairy products don’t last long due to the live bacterias in them. Not to mention, it could be dangerous consuming them if they are spoilt. It is best to discard dairy products past their expiry date if you don’t want an upset stomach.
Hard or semi-hard cheeses such as parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar can be frozen for longer storage. As dairy products, they can get mouldy, so it is wise to consume them quickly unless you intend to freeze them. Soft cheeses such as brie, blue cheese and cream cheese should be consumed as quickly as possible.
Freezing soft cheeses is counterproductive, as thawing them will introduce water and will make them soggy. You don’t want your cheesecake batter to be too runny and produce a bland result, either.