Cornmeal is a common pantry item, but may not be used more than a few times a month. People tend to think that flours have an indefinite shelf life, but this may not be entirely true! Can cornmeal go bad, and how should you store the cornmeal to extend its shelf life for as long as possible?
What is Cornmeal?
Cornmeal is a flour made by simply grinding up dried kernels of corn. Many recipes will call for a bit of cornmeal to add a bit more texture. For instance, many pizza recipes will have both flour and cornmeal on the surface when the dough is being shaped. This not only keeps the dough from sticking, but will also add some crunch to the crust!
Can Cornmeal Go Bad?
Like all flours, cornmeal can go bad. The shelf life of cornmeal in the original paper, cardboard or wax packaging from the store is around a year, whether opened or not. Of course, there are ways to extend the shelf life of your cornmeal. Proper storage is important for making sure that the cornmeal remains sealed from moisture, insects, mold spores and other potential contaminants.
Image used under Creative Commons from Rebecca Siegel
How to Store Cornmeal
To maximize the shelf life of cornmeal, you should transfer the flour from its original packaging upon bringing it home from the store. Storing cornmeal in a sealed glass container will protect it from many of the contaminants that can permeate the paper and wax bag used to package most commercially sold cornmeal. Be sure to mark the expiration date on the jar!
Refrigerating the cornmeal (so long as it’s in a tightly sealed container), can also help to extend the shelf life, as can freezing. So long as no additional moisture enters the container, freezing cornmeal can preserve its shelf life for well over a year. When using frozen cornmeal, be sure to remove only the amount needed from the container, and to seal and replace it in the freezer immediately. Too many changes in temperature will promote spoilage.
If you prefer not to freeze or refrigerate your cornmeal, simply keeping it in a tightly sealed container in your pantry should suffice. Many home cooks use bay leaves to help extend the shelf life of flours and grains. Placing a few bay leaves in the sealed container is said to keep moths and weevils away. Garlic is said to have a similar effect, but may impart a stronger flavor.
Signs that Cornmeal Has Spoiled
Cornmeal is subject to a few different forms of spoilage. If the grain becomes too moist, mold is likely to grow. In some cases, excess moisture can even lead to fermentation. If there is any sign of mold, or the cornmeal appears wet and sticky (whether or not there are bubbles, or other signs of fermentation present), it should be discarded.
Because cornmeal is made from the whole grain, there is a bit of fat present that will eventually go rancid. Proper storage should slow this process, and freezing will prolong it even longer. If cornmeal is not stored in a tightly sealing container, or if it is exposed to a warm environment, it will become rancid far more quickly. Rancid corn will have a strong unpleasant or bitter smell, and should not be consumed.
Another spoilage issue that comes into play with grains is insect contamination. Signs of insects (mostly moths and weevils) include eggs present in little pockets of the grain, a dusty or chalky appearance to the cornmeal, and actual larvae and adult insects in the grain. The best way to prevent insects from contaminating the cornmeal is to tightly seal and freeze the cornmeal. Refrigeration should also prevent insect infestation. As said before, if you can’t freeze or refrigerate your grains, adding bay leaves to the tightly sealed container of cornmeal is a folk remedy that’s said to deter bugs.