How Can You Tell If Wheat Berries Are Still Good?


Wheat berries are excellent for milling whole wheat flour for bread or pasta, cooking, and eating like porridge or sprouting for greens. If you don’t use them often, i.e., they’ve been sitting in your pantry for months, you might be ready to mill some flour for homemade bread, but you’re not sure if they are still good. Here are some indications you wheat berries haven’t headed south.

Wheat berries are still good if they are hard, look clean, and have a consistent tan color with hulls still intact. They will smell slightly sweet or have no smell. Avoid berries that smell moldy, musty, or rancid or have off-colors or dark spots.

Wheat berries can also go a little stale; they should taste nutty and slightly sweet, not bitter or metallic. Unfortunately, you won’t know based on just flavor until you’ve tried them.

Warning: According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, storing wheat berries above 10% moisture in Oxygen-free containers may cause anaerobic bacteria, botulism, to form. You cannot see, smell, or taste Botulism. It is rare but deadly.

Do Wheat Berries Expire?

Depending on how you store them wheat berries can last months to decades.

Eventually, wheat berries will expire. Stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry location, they will last 6 months to many years at room temperature, around 75° Fahrenheit, up to 3 years in the freezer, and 30+ years if stored in oxygen-free containers.

How long your wheat berries will store depends on how fresh they are when you get them and how you store them. It’s not uncommon for wheat to last for years if kept in a cool, dry location.

Keep in mind that moisture is the #1 enemy of wheat berries, which includes humidity in the room and how dry the berries are when you get them.

If you store wheat in the refrigerator you may have issues with condensation. Moisture kills wheat berries.

Before storage, wheat kernels should be intact, not crushed, or broken because this releases natural oils reducing shelf-life. The outer shell of a wheat berry protects it from going stale, rancid, and losing nutrition.

Wheat Berries Spoiled From Oil Rancidity

Once a wheat berry is cracked, crushed, or broken, it releases oil. These oils go rancid in months, not years. Even if stored in an oxygen-free storage environment, oils go rancid quickly.

If wheat berries have oil rancidity, they will smell metallic, bitter, or soapy.

Natural oils released when milling wheat berries into flour is why whole wheat flours go rancid so quickly. Store-bought white flours have been bleached and heavily processed, so it doesn’t go rancid from natural oils.

Wheat Berries Spoiled From Moisture

If wheat spoils from Aerobic bacteria, it contains too much moisture: it’s gotten wet or ambient humidity in your storage space is too high.

If wheat berries are exposed to too much moisture, they may get soft or show signs of mildew or fungus. All of these are indicated by rancid smells and mottled berries with dark spots.

The ideal humidity level in the room where you store wheat is 15%. Low humidity levels like this aren’t realistic for most of us, but you can get humidity levels down using a dehumidifier in your storage room.

One good thing about non-oxygen-free storage is you can tell when wheat berries are heading south. Mold, mildew, and aerobic bacteria can be seen and smelled.

You can usually tell wheat berries are bad unless you have good grain on top of, say, a 5-gallon bucket, and the grain at the bottom has started to mildew.

When wheat berries are stored at too high a moisture content. They will release the moisture over time, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth, which creates hot spots and eventually spoils all of the grain.

Moisture Limit For Wheat Berries

The ideal moisture content of wheat berries is 10% when stored in oxygen-free storage. This will ensure that anaerobic bacteria don’t form.

A good way to tell if wheat berries are dry enough is to crush a berry with a hammer. If the berry shatters, it’s an indication it is dry enough. If it breaks but doesn’t shatter or flattens, then it needs to dry more.

The best method of determining wheat’s moisture content is using a grain moisture tester.

Wheat Berries Spoiling From Bugs

Bugs eggs are present in most grains, including wheat berries. If you don’t see any activity, that just means they are dormant. Some berries are fumigated with a chemical like Phostoxin before being packed off to the store, but you won’t necessarily know.

If packaging wheat berries for maximum shelf-life, use an oxygen-free container to kill bugs at all life stages within 2 weeks.

When wheat berries are infested with bugs, you will see broken berries or berries that look chewed on, powdery substances from bug excrement, and possibly dead bugs. You may even see some adult bugs crawling around.

The most common bug infestation in wheat berries is weevils. If you have them, they will move to other foods in the pantry. Yuck!

How Long Do Wheat Berries Last In The Fridge?

The Best Way To Store Wheat Berries

How you store wheat berries is going to depend on what you’ll use them for. If you have small quantities and bake with them regularly, you’ll store them differently than if you want them for long-term storage.

The best way to store wheat berries is in an airtight container stored in a cool and dry location. The best storage method for long-term storage is in professionally packaged #10 cans or the combination of a food-grade bucket, lined with a Mylar bag and an Oxygen absorber.

How Do You Store Wheat Berries For A Long Time?

If you ask this question, you may be interested in emergency or survival food supplies for your family. There are a few preferred methods of storing wheat berries for the longest shelf life.

Store wheat berries for a long-time or a long shelf life by using Oxygen-free containers. The preferred DIY storage method is a food-grade bucket lined with a Mylar bag and an oxygen absorber. Stored in a cool, dry location, wheat berries stored this way will last 30 plus years.

Chart 1: Wheat Berry Storage Life

Container Storage-TypeShelf-life
Air-tight Container (75° F)6 month to 2+years
Oxygen-free storage (75° F)30 + Years
Refrigerator6 months (condensation is an issue)
Freezer1 to 3 years
Storage Life Of Wheatberries

Sources

A Guide To Food Storage For Emergencies, Utah State University, PDF

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