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Can Cornmeal Go Bad?

Let me guess. You decided to try out a recipe that called for cornmeal. Maybe that was cornbread, corn muffins, or even corn porridge. It turned out okay, but it’s not like you eat it regularly.

And now, a couple of months later, you found that open bag of cornmeal deep in storage and aren’t sure if it’s still okay to use. Can cornmeal go bad?

While you might think that cornmeal is like flour in terms of storage because it’s often used as its substitute, that’s not entirely the case. It depends on the type of cornmeal we’re talking about, to be precise.

Because yes, there are two types available: whole-grain cornmeal and degerminated cornmeal.

Wooden spoon with cornmeal
Wooden spoon with cornmeal

Cornmeal is made by grinding dried kernels of corn. For the whole grain variety, everything is ground, including the germ. In the case of degerminated cornmeal, the germ is removed before grinding.

The difference is vital because the germ is where most of the kernel’s fat is ([WIKI]). And as you probably know, fat tends to go rancid if you store it improperly or for too long.

Knowing that, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of storage, shelf life, and spoilage of cornmeal.

Can Cornmeal Go Bad? How To Tell If Cornmeal Is Bad?

Like almost all food products, cornmeal spoils too. Cornmeal is done for and you should discard it when:

  • There are some insects in the package. That means dead insects, alive ones, or eggs.
  • Mold or big wet clumps are present. If moisture found its way into the cornmeal, there will be mold within a couple of days.
  • Rancid or bitter smell or taste. This one applies mostly to whole-grain cornmeal because it contains much more oil than its degerminated counterpart.
  • Odd/funny aroma. Like with pretty much any other food, make sure it passes the sniff test.

Please note that some grey or black specs are typical to whole-grain cornmeal ([BRM]), and aren’t a sign of spoilage by any means.

Last but not least, cornmeal gradually degrades in quality. That means it loses some of its corn flavor over time, and a couple of years old product won’t be as good as a fresh one. Once again, the whole grain variety degrades faster.

Cornmeal in a wooden bowl and scoop
Cornmeal in a wooden bowl and scoop

How Long Does Cornmeal Last?

Both types of cornmeal come with a best-by date on the label. That date isn’t an expiration date, but rather an approximation of how long the powder will retain quality. And, as you might imagine, you can easily store cornmeal past its date with excellent results.

How long exactly, you ask? It’s difficult to tell, but here are some approximations I hope you find helpful:

  • For degerminated cornmeal, it should keep just fine for several months, up to a year or even longer at room temperature. If that’s not long enough, you can keep it in the freezer for a couple of years.
  • Whole-grain cornmeal should keep quality for a couple of months, maybe half a year, provided that you refrigerate or freeze it after opening.

With that in mind, let’s talk about storage guidelines for this flour substitute.

Cornmeal and corn
Cornmeal and corn

How To Store Cornmeal?

Similarly to flours and all other powdered products, you should store cornmeal in a dark and dry place. The latter is especially important because, like other powders, cornmeal can pick up moisture from the environment. As usual, seal the bag or container tightly after every use.

When it comes to where exactly cornmeal should sit, it depends on the variety. As long as the package is unopened, both are perfectly fine at room temperature. That means a cabinet in the pantry or the kitchen, depending on your preferences.

Once you open the package, degerminated cornmeal can still sit in the same place, but the whole grain variety requires refrigeration or freezing for optimal results ([BRM]).

If you want to store cornmeal in the fridge or freezer, it should be well sealed. The plastic packages the product often comes in are somewhat tricky to seal properly, so it’s best if you transfer the powder into an airtight container.

This way, you can be confident that any moisture won’t get into the cornmeal.

If you want to use up your cornmeal, make corn tortillas. While homemade tortillas don’t last that long, they freeze well for more than a couple of months.

A Bowl of Cornmeal
Image used under Creative Commons from Rebecca Siegel

In a Nutshell

  • Cornmeal is sold in two varieties: whole grain and degerminated. The latter keeps quality for longer.
  • If there are insects (dead or alive) or mold in the package, or the cornmeal smells funny, rancid or bitter, discard it.
  • Degerminated cornmeal keeps quality for up to a year past its date if stored at room temperature, and a couple of years if frozen. Whole grain variety is best for only a couple of months past its date.
  • You can store degerminated cornmeal in a cabinet in the kitchen or pantry at all times. When it comes to the whole grain variety, it requires refrigeration or freezing after opening the package for the best results.