Monday, August 25, 2014

Use Your Bulk Foods!

I thought I would share how I plan and store my bulk foods.

My main storage containers are food safe 5 gallon buckets with Gamma Seal lids (from Lowe's), 1 gallon glass jars with metal lids (from Azure), and 2 quart Ball jars, but I also use smaller glass jar repurposed from holding purchased foods.

Brown Rice:

Some bulk foods, such as wheat berries, can store for quite awhile, depending on how you store them and the temperature where they are stored. Some, however, like brown rice, don't store nearly as long. From what I have read, brown rice has a storage life of about six months before it goes rancid.

The best way to make sure you use brown rice if you buy it in bulk is to figure out how much you need to use monthly to use it up in six months.

We were going through a lot of brown basmati rice, so I went ahead an ordered 25#. However, right after that we started eating a lot more bread. I wanted to make sure we would use the rice in a timely manner, so I did some math.

25# of rice divided by 6 months is a little over 4# per month, so that is my target. One full batch of rice in my rice cooker uses 1.25# dry rice. If I make a full batch every week I should go through the rice on about 20 weeks, or five months.

So, I know that I need to make a full batch of rice each week. That is easy; I usually make pinto beans twice a week and we like to eat those with rice. I make a full batch of rice for one meal, then I sauté the leftover rice in a little oil with garlic powder, onion powder, New Mexico chili powder, salt, and pepper and put it away for a second meal. Any leftovers after that are free for the taking at supper time (not our main meal).

Wheat Berries:

As I mentioned, wheat berries have a long storage life, but that doesn't mean that I want to keep the same wheat berries in my house for years! I believe that quick turnover lessens the risk of developing pantry moths.

Most of what I have seen online says that there are 2 cups of wheat berries per pound. I weighed 2 cups of white wheat berries and they weighed just about 15 oz. so I suppose it will depend on moisture content from harvest to harvest (or maybe it is my measuring cup or scale). For the sake of keeping things easy I will use the 2 cups = 1 pound measurement.

Currently I use approximately 55# of wheat per month, mostly hard white wheat berries, then hard red wheat berries, then einkorn berries (I am using these until I run out and then I will buy soft white wheat berries as I think they perform better in baking). To figure out how to use my bulk grains and know when to order again I need to separate out what I am using and do the math that way.

I make sandwich bread 5 times a week; sometimes it is 6 times but it is never less than 5 times, so that is my safe number. I grind a 2:1 ratio of red wheat berries to white wheat berries for each loaf. That is 5# of hard red wheat berries and 2.5# of hard white wheat berries per week, or 20# of hard red and 10# of hard white per month.

I use hard wheat to make dough for pizza (3# per week), hamburger buns (1.5# every other week), and cinnamon rolls (1.5# every other week). I estimate that at about 18# per month.

In addition to that I make at least one double batch of muffins per week, using 1.5# of einkorn berries, which is 6# per month. I also use einkorn berries for waffles about once a month, using 2.5# of einkorn berries.

So I use approximately 20# of hard red wheat per month, 28# of hard white wheat per month, and 8.5# of einkorn berries. I just received 50# each of hard red and hard white and I have 25# of einkorn berries. I can shift things around a bit with the red and white and even that out to 25# of each per month. My einkorn should last about 3 months.

(Knowing these numbers is really important for determining my grocery budget as well. Now I know that I use about $50 in wheat berries per month.)


Whole oat groats store longer than rolled or cracked oats., but quick oats and rolled oats still have a storage life of several years. I like to buy no more than I will use in six months.


Popcorn also has a long storage life, but in my experience popcorn does go stale, so if you want to pop some of it (vs. only grinding it for cornmeal) then once again it is better to use it faster and not store it for years. I have read that it stores indefinitely but I have also read that it is best to use it within a year, so that is the number I am going for.

I have 25# of popcorn that I want to use within 12 months, so I need to use a little over 2# per month. I weighed my popcorn and 1 pound is definitely 2 cups. Right now I might pop 1/2 C. of popcorn per week, which would only be 1# per month. I also grind popcorn for cornmeal, but not very often. So now I know that I need to find a few more recipes that call for cornmeal. Cornbread muffins once a month would probably use the that other pound of popcorn.

Pinto Beans:

The same principle applies here, unless you use pinto beans often, as I do. Because I buy my pinto beans from Costco and don't have to order them, and because we eat them so often, I just add them to my list when we are running low.

All other beans:

I like to have a variety of beans and other legumes, so I don't buy these in significant bulk. I bought 25# of split peas once and we ate them for a long time. So now I generally buy between 2 - 5# of other beans and legumes.


I bought 25# of sucanat recently. I've never had it go bad and I have stored it for over a year.


Piloncillo is an unrefined cane sugar product from Mexico. Sugar cane is pressed for the juice and the juice is then boiled and poured into cone molds; it isn't centrifugally spun as for granulated sugar. In terms of nutrition, all the minerals are intact in piloncillo. In that it is very similar to sucanat, but it isn't a dry, free-flowing sugar so it does require some labor to use.  For small amounts many people grate it. I buy it in cones, and store it that way until needed.


Honey doesn't go bad; it might crystalize but you can heat it gently to dissolve the crystals. I have bought honey in 5 gallon buckets a few times before (because I was able to do so locally before the local honey processing plant was purchased and then they suspended retail sales), but I must admit that transferring it was so difficult that I no longer choose to buy it that way. As for types of honey, sage and orange blossom are my favorites :)


I don't like to buy oils in bulk; I like them to be very fresh and will pay more for that. If you want to buy them in bulk be sure to do the math and make sure you will use them before they go rancid.

Salt, Baking Soda, Baking Powder:

Salt doesn't go bad, so go ahead and buy it in bulk to get the best price, especially if you like Redmond's Real Salt. I've read that baking soda does go bad as may be evidenced by a bitter taste, but have never experienced it myself. Most of what I have read says it stores indefinitely. Baking powder, on the other hand, does go bad, as evidenced by failing to work :( I buy it in the small cans so I can be sure that it is very fresh.


My favorite yeast is SAF Instant; I buy it in one pound pouches and always keep it frozen. To ensure that I don't run out I store my opened package in a glass jar and I have one unopened package. As soon as I transfer that unopened package to the jar I buy a new package and freeze it.

Odds and Ends:

I buy flax seed, hemp seed, and chia in bulk, but not more than a couple month's worth at a time. I keep most of it frozen.

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