Any of the food preservation methods discussed in Part 1, and the additional UHT (ultra-high temperature pasteurization) for the vegetable protein category, should adequately prevent your stored foods from spoiling if stored properly, so I’m more concerned with which storage methods produce the best results for the different ways I use grains and proteins in my Food Storage Cookbook recipes. Ultimately, oats are oats, and tofu is tofu; but different storage forms of these products perform very differently depending on how you cook them and what other ingredients you’re using, and some forms are definitely better than others for certain applications. Although there are exceptions, this article discussions my general observations with the different forms of storage grains and proteins.
You can download the Storage Proteins quick reference chart (pdf) containing these commonly stored grains and vegetable proteins, and print it for use with your Food Storage Cookbook. The following “long version” explains my ratings with additional detail and a few hints and tips.
Grains: Grains are most commonly sold and stored naturally air-dried on the stalk or stem, threshed and winnowed to separate the seeds from the chaff and then cleaned. Some grains are additionally processed to remove the extremely hard and inedible hulls, and some are cracked, flaked or ground into flour. Whenever possible, you should store whole grains that have been minimally processed since they have the best and longest storage life. Once the seed is cracked, flaked or ground the natural oils are exposed to air and can quickly become rancid (oxidize) if extra packaging and storage steps are not taken to reduce or eliminate the oxygen exposure. I strongly recommend that grains (especially flours) be stored in airtight, vacuum-sealed containers with an oxygen absorber and a desiccant packet if they will not be used within a few months, and that you not grind more whole grains than you plan to use within the month. You can only sprout whole grains with the hull intact, so if sprouting or planting is in your plans, be sure to choose a whole, unprocessed form:
- Amaranth & Quinoa: While they are considered grains, amaranth and quinoa are not true cereals, and have a complete amino acid profile. Amaranth and quinoa hulls contain saponin, a soapy substance that is bitter and can cause indigestion or loose bowels. You should always wash, soak and simmer these grains in a few changes of water to help eliminate the saponins. They are suitable for most soups & stews, starchy side dishes such pilaf, flatbreads, and included coarsely ground or cracked in multigrain breads. These grains can be paired with others in place of beans to get a complete protein profile for those people with legume allergies.
- Barley: With its extremely hard hull requiring specialized equipment to remove, barley is often one of the most processed grains included in food storage. Of the two common forms, hulled barley is preferable for storage over pearled barley. Both forms have had the hull and some of the germ removed, but hulled barley has not undergone the additional polishing that pearled barley has and thus retains more of its nutrients. You may find “Quick Barley” in the supermarket, which is partially cooked and processed for convenient cooking much like instant rice, but does not have the shelf life of either hulled or pearled forms. In general, barley requires slow cooking with plenty of liquid; but adds a hearty thickness to soups and stews when other grains would become overly starchy. Because of its hearty texture, cooked barley is also a cook meat extender/replacement and binder for patties and burgers. Barley is also one of the primary ingredients in beers. Flaked and malted barley are also wonderful additions to breads and other savory baked items. Barley can be paired with other grains in place of beans to get a more complete protein for those people with legume allergies.
- Buckwheat: While commonly considered a grain, buckwheat is not a true cereal and is the seed of a plant in the same family as rhubarb. Like barley, buckwheat has a hard fibrous shell that requires special equipment to remove. Like amaranth and quinoa, buckwheat also contains a complete amino acid profile. Most commonly, buckwheat is available as flour used for pancakes, biscuits, muffins and noodles (such as Japanese soba noodles); but for long-term storage, the three-side “groats” have a longer shelf life and retain more nutrients. If you can’t find groats, the darker buckwheat flours are preferable to the lighter flours because they contain more hull and germ, and more nutrients. If you have access to an international market that carries Eastern European or Russian foods, you may also find toasted buckwheat called “kasha”. Buckwheat makes excellent breakfast porridge, and adds a rich nutty bite to baked goods. Buckwheat can be paired with other grains in place of beans to get a complete protein profile for those people with legume allergies.
- Corn: I discussed corn as a vegetable (primarily the sweet table variety) in Food Storage Part 2: Storing Produce; but it is also a cereal grain. In this category, the field corns (Dent, Flint/Indian, and Popcorn) are excellent for long-term storage if they have been dried properly. Dent corn grinds to a finer flour, while Flint or Indian corn grinds into a grittier meal; but either variety will work well with a few more or less passes through the grain mill. Many people say that you can grind popcorn into flour and meal; but considering the strain dent and flint corn put on my grinder despite having a corn auger, I think it’s best to reserve the even harder popcorn for popping. It’s awfully hard to get the others varieties to pop, and corn is inexpensive and readily available, so there is really no hardship storing one or more varieties for specific purposes.
- A note on bulk corn… if you buy your corn from a granary you will often see “Grade 1” (human) and “Grade 2” (livestock) versions offered with a big difference in price. Generally, the only difference between the two is that Grade 1 has been washed and sorted more carefully; if you don’t mind a little extra dust and picking out an occasional pebble, then #2 could allow you to stretch your food budget a little farther… just confirm that the two types are the same variety, because some (very few) #2 varieties are genetically modified (GMO) and have only been approved for use as animal feed.
- Flax Seed: This small, oily grain is so versatile it more than earns a place in your pantry. It not only contains essential amino acids, it also contains essential fatty acids, and plenty of other micronutrients and anti-oxidants that make it an all-round beneficial food. Flax can be ground into a paste, mixed with a little water, and used as an egg replacement in many recipes; and a thickener in many sauces. Flax can be added whole or sprouted to multigrain breads, or pressed into the top of baked goods for added crunch. Flax seed and flax seed oil has many medicinal and personal care uses as well. However, the healthy oils that make flax seed so nutritious unfortunately reduce shelf life if proper care isn’t taken to reduce/eliminate oxygen exposure and stored in a cool location to prevent oxidation. Flax seed oil is also one of the few vegetable oils that can take high cooking and baking temps without damaging the fats.
- Millet: These tiny buff-colored seeds with their mild flavor are often overlooked by most people in the US except as birdseed mixes. However, they are an excellent substitute for any dish you’d consider using rice for and cooked much the same way. Millet makes a hearty porridge, a light pilaf, and a great addition to seed mixtures pressed into multigrain and rustic breads. Since they swell nearly three times during cooking, millet also provides the most servings for their storage space of all the grains; just be sure to store extra water.
- Oats:Another grain with an extremely hard hull requiring special equipment to remove, oats are used for many recipes, from porridge to cookies. Oats are a common grain in North America and available in several different forms; from least to most processed, these are:
- Groats: the whole seed with the hull removed (store these if possible)
- Steel Cut: groats thickly sliced with no other processing
- Rolled or “Old Fashioned”: steamed groats rolled flat
- “Quick” or “Instant”: Partially cooked rolled oats (not suitable for long-term storage, but great for pantry convenience and excellent substitute for bread crumbs
- Rice:There are many different varieties of rice available and most can be stored equally well, with the exception of brown rice which has a limited storage life due to its higher oil content and potential to become rancid. Rice flours have many uses, from milk substitute to pasta, and whole rice can be easily ground at home. The variety of rice(s) you decide to store is entirely dependent on your preference and what you plan to use it for:
- Short grain: is softer, moister, stickier and sweeter than the others making it perfect for sushi, rice balls, and some risottos.
- Medium grain: is midway between short and long grain, and is generally the best all-purpose rice if you only intend to store one kind; unfortunately this is not as common in North America as the other two.
- Long grain: is drier and blander, but excellent for fluffy rice dishes like pilaf, long cooking dishes such as soups and stews, or dishes where the rice is cooked twice like fried rice. This is the most common rice sold in North America, and is often cooked and then dehydrated to make “instant” rice.
- Brown vs. Converted vs. White: regardless of the grain, rice is processed to remove the tough hull. Brown rice has only the hull removed, and contains all the bran and germ. Converted is brown rice that is steamed and slightly polished to remove some of the bran. White rice has been steamed and polished several times to remove all the bran, and thus is often fortified to replace the nutrients lost in this process. Brown rice has a rich nutty flavor that can be noticeable when paired with more subtle-flavored dishes. White rice is extremely mild, which makes it a perfect canvas and accompaniment for many dishes, especially those with strong flavors and rich sauces.
- Rye: One of the darkest and most pungent grains, rye berries and rye flour are often used in dense pumpernickel and authentic brown breads. It adds a slight tartness and chewy texture to any bread, and can replace up to ¼ of the wheat flour for added variety to your favorite recipe without further adjustments. Rye berries make an excellent savory grain for stuffing meats and vegetables, especially when toasted. Rye berries are whole grains with the hull intact, so they sprout well in the cellar. Rye is also one of the few grains with a complete amino acid profile, and can be eaten alone or combined with other grains instead of beans.
- Wheat, Durum, Kamut Spelt, and Triticale: Modern wheat is generally one of four closely-related siblings: hard red, hard white, soft red and soft white. The two hard varieties are most commonly stored long term, and are suitable for nearly all cooking and baking purposes; but their higher gluten content makes them most suitable for bread. The two soft varieties have slightly shorter shelf lives in storage, and are also suitable for nearly all cooking and baking purposes; but their lower gluten content makes them most suitable for biscuits, cakes and pastry. Soft wheat is much easier to grind by hand than hard wheat, and hard wheat berries are prone to shattering in the mill and require more passes and sifting to achieve fine flours. Durum is a separate strain than modern hard and soft wheat, and has very high protein but not the kinds that makes strong gluten, so is primarily used to make pasta. Kamut is an older larger cousin of modern wheat that can replace wheat 1:1 in recipes. Spelt is another older larger wheat cousin that can replace wheat in nearly every usage with minor. Triticale is a “new” rye/durum hybrid that can be used to replace durum or rye in their common usages, although requires some tweaking to replace (red or white) wheat. Many people with allergies and sensitivities to wheat are able to tolerate kamut, spelt, durum, and triticale.
Nuts, Seeds & Peanuts: Composed of nearly equal amounts of carbohydrates, healthy fat, and proteins they are nutritional power packs and one of nature’s most balanced foods (much like their animal counterparts, milk and eggs). Unshelled nuts, seeds and peanuts (botanically, a legume) can be cellared several months in dry conditions, but for long term storage they are best shelled, dry roasted without salt and stored in airtight, vacuum sealed containers with an oxygen absorber.
Nearly all nuts and seeds can be ground into “butters”, and these butters will keep several months when stored properly; although the oils and solids may separate, a good stirring is generally all that is needed to make them spreadable again as long as they have not been frozen (frozen nut butters are nearly impossible to reincorporate without mechanical assistance). Peanut butter powder, made by defatting and dehydrating peanut butter, is readily available and an exceptional replacement for creamy peanut butter in cooking and baking recipes (it’s certainly less messy to measure). Reconstituted PB powder makes a palatable plain spread with the addition of a little peanut or mild vegetable oil (like canola). Several nuts are also available as flours, and these can add variety to many baked goods and often form one or more parts of gluten-free/wheat flour replacements. With the exception of shredded and chunked coconut, dehydrated and freeze-dried nuts and seeds are not commonly available. Canned (heat processed) nuts and seeds are not common, although canned boiled peanuts can be found in some specialty stores. Dry canned nuts are often roasted and vacuum canned rather than heat processed.
Soy, Tempeh, Tofu & Miso: Whole soybeans are available fresh-frozen (edamame), dehydrated and freeze-dried; and soy flour is often used to make noodles and dumpling pastry, or as part of gluten-free/wheat flour replacements. Raw soybeans are toxic and the pod is never edible, only consume cooked or processed soybeans and soy products.
Tempeh is a soy product made from fermented soybeans that is pressed into cakes which may be frozen, dehydrated, freeze-dried, canned or UHT pasteurized. Different forms of tempeh are aged for different periods and may included other seasonings, therefore it generally has a distinctive flavor.
Tofu is a soy product made from coagulating soy milk and the resulting curds are pressed into cakes, much like cheese made from dairy milk. The different textures are created by draining/pressing the liquid from this cake and aging. Silken tofu is the moistest with a texture much like cream cheese, and can be used in most recipes where soft cheese, sour cream or yogurt would be used to add a rich creamy texture. Extra Firm tofu is the driest with a texture much like cheddar cheese, and can be used in a variety of ways as you would a hard cheese or meat: crumbled, cubed, sliced, pickled, marinated, breaded, fried baked or roasted. Because unprocessed tofu has an extremely subtle flavor that readily absorbs flavors and seasonings, it can be used as a “blank canvas” protein in several dishes. Like tempeh, tofu may be frozen, dehydrated, freeze-dried, canned or UHT pasteurized.
Miso is a paste most commonly made from fermented rice, barley and/or soybeans which is often used as a seasoning base for sauces, pickling brines, and soups and stews. Several other grains, legumes and seasoning may be incorporated into particular miso varieties each with its own unique flavor characteristics; as such, a miso appropriate for dashi (soup base) may not be appropriate for a meat glaze or pickled vegetable brine. Freezing or refrigerating prepared miso is recommended, but many miso varieties are available UHT pasteurized or in dehydrated and freeze-dried powder forms. “Instant” Miso Soup normally a combination of powdered miso, dehydrated vegetables and freeze-dried tofu.
In the North American market, many non-Asian non-traditional soy and tofu products are available, especially in vegan and vegetarian fare: soy milk, milk alternative blends, egg substitutes, faux cheeses, and meat replacements. Unpasteurized tofu, tempeh and miso are naturally preserved through culturing and fermentation, and have traditionally been kept several weeks or months properly covered in the cellar. Pasteurized products should always be refrigerated or frozen. There is some concern about the high levels of phytoestrogens, similar to female sex hormones, in soy products. You may wish to research the risks or consult a physician before introducing large amounts of soy product into the diets of children, men, and women with a family history of breast cancer.
Seitan/Gluten, Animal Analogues & Texturized Vegetable Protein: Whether you choose to eat meat or not, animal products can be expensive and difficult to store long-term, so vegetable-based “analogues” may be a budget friendly option to extend or replace animal products in your food storage and pantry. “Analogue” is just a fancy term for something that is made to resemble to characteristics of something else… in this case, plant products resembling animal products.
Seitan, made from vital wheat gluten is one common form, Megan’s Wheat Meat: Meatless Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe is one example. There are several milk, cream, cheese, butter, egg, fish and meat analogues available made from soy, nuts and seeds, beans, wheat, corn, and other grains. These may be vegan, or vegetarian, or contain partial forms of the animal ingredient the product is intended to mimic; for instance, several milk alternatives contain whey and some egg substitutes contain powdered egg whites. In general, analogues containing a partial form of the intended product taste closer to the real thing, but several pure vegan analogues are quite tasty. In highly seasoned foods, it is nearly impossible to distinguish an analogue from the real thing by taste or texture alone.
One form of analogue is particularly relevant to long-term food storage, Texturized Vegetable Protein. TVP is a meat substitute made from a combination of vegetable derivates and seasonings, then cooked and/or dehydrated into granules or small “bits” which are then vacuum sealed. Properly stored TVP has a shelf life of several years, and because it is dehydrated, it weighs much less and takes up less storage space than the equivalent servings of canned or frozen product. There are a large number of TVP “meats” that can be used instead of ground or diced bacon, beef, chicken, ham, pork, sausage, and turkey either plain or pre-seasoned (such as taco-flavored). Unflavored TVP powder is also available and can be used to increase protein to and thicken many other foods.
Be advised that TVP is a highly processed food, sometimes contains higher than average sodium levels, requires additional water storage, and has been known to cause digestive upset and flatulence in many people who aren’t used to eating it, or have allergies/sensitivities to one or more ingredients in the analogue mixture.
If you opt to replace all animal products in your food storage with analogues and TVP you should consider using additional cooking oils and/or nuts in order to meet your minimum nutritional requirements for dietary fat and cholesterol.
Allergy Warning! Four of the “Big Eight” food allergens fall in this category: Tree Nuts, Peanuts & Legumes, Soy, and Wheat. Many of the animal product substitutes contain one or more of these four, and possibly also one or more of the remaining four: Milk, Eggs, Fish, and Shellfish. In some cases, these items may not be easily identified on the label because derivatives are used, not whole products. Additionally, an overwhelming percentage of food sensitivities are also in this category (grains, especially corn, being high on that list). For these reasons, I caution anyone trying a new ingredient to purchase a sample amount to see if you or your family members have any adverse reactions before stocking a large quantity. If a member of your family has a known related food allergy, I strongly recommend conducting the 14 Step Toxicity Challenge used to determine if wild foraged plants are edible. Remember adverse food reactions can be sudden and severe, and it is possible to develop allergies and sensitivities over time; always clearly label stored foods that contain known allergens for your family or one of the “Big Eight”.
In Food Storage, Part 4: Storing Animal Proteins, I’ll provide my experiences with storing dairy, eggs, fish and meat to help you decide which storage methods work the best for the recipes in your Food Storage Cookbook, including a printable quick reference chart.
Food Storage, Part 1: Common Methods of Food Preservation
Food Storage, Part 2: Storing Produce (with printable quick reference chart)