Cornmeal is a versatile grain made by grinding and milling dried corn kernels. There is yellow cornmeal, white cornmeal, blue cornmeal, fine ground, and coarse ground. You can bake bread with it, make a cheesy polenta or grits, use it in pizza crusts, make tortillas, and so much more.
I always have cornmeal on hand for quick meals, especially when last-minute weekend guests show up and we decide to make a family-style meal. I especially like to bake cornbread with broccoli florets and cheddar cheese. It is a great way to get kids to eat some veggies.
Cornmeal is an affordable and filling staple to keep around. I store my cornmeal for a long time. But, cornmeal is perishable and will eventually go bad. I will explain how to store cornmeal, how long it lasts, and how to tell if it has gone bad.
Proper Storage Of Cornmeal
There are two basic types of cornmeal, whole grain and degermed. The milling process is what differentiates them.
- Whole-grain cornmeal has the germ, hull, and endosperm still intact. The germ contains most of the oil that is in corn. The oil can affect the life span of the cornmeal, as it imparts moisture into the meal. Moisture is not favorable for any type of meal or flour.
- Degermed cornmeal has the germ and bran removed during the milling process. This type of cornmeal is more readily available and will store for a longer period of time than whole-grain cornmeal.
Most unopened cornmeal will store well in a cool, dry area, such as a kitchen cabinet or pantry that is away from ovens and other sources of heat. Once you open the bag, it is best to transfer the meal to an airtight, glass container. Or, place the cornmeal on a sealable freezer baggie and push all of the air out of the bag. Be sure to write the date on the baggie with a permanent marker. At this point, I usually place my cornmeal in the freezer to prolong its shelf life. The refrigerator is another good storage space for opened cornmeal.
How Long Does Cornmeal Last?
Most commercially packaged cornmeal will have an expiration or best-by date stamped on the bag or container. That is an easy way to tell how long cornmeal will last. However, I can often extend the life of my cornmeal by storing it in an airtight baggie in the freezer, as mentioned previously.
A good rule of thumb is to assume that properly stored degermed cornmeal will last at least until the best-by date and can last up to 12 months after that date. Whole-grain cornmeal, on the other hand, might only last 3 months beyond the best-by date when stored in the freezer.
Keep in mind that cornmeal that is still in the original, unopened packaging may last a long time when stored in a dry pantry or cabinet. It is important to note that if you purchase cornmeal from a local artisanal mill or from the bulk aisle of the grocery store, it will not be packaged in commercially sealed containers. It also might not have a best-by date indicated on the bag or label. Don’t be afraid to ask the miller or store clerk the age of the product.
How Can You Tell When Cornmeal Has Gone Bad?
There are a few ways to tell if your cornmeal is no longer edible. Of course, the expiration date is a good indicator. If there is no date on the packaging, here are some other ways you might be able to tell if the meal has gone bad.
Let’s start with critters. If you don’t have enough space in your freezer or fridge for bags of flour, fresh nuts, coffee, and cornmeal, we’ll assume the cornmeal is in the pantry where pests may be present. You may not even know you have opportunistic (hungry) invaders because they can hide and many are pretty tiny. And, for the record, we all have them, no matter how clean your home is.
Grains and meals attract weevils, moths, sugar ants, mealworms, and mice. If you open your bag of cornmeal and see any movement or tiny foreign matter, such as mouse droppings, toss the bag. You can discourage tiny invaders with bay leaves or garlic placed in the meal, but who wants pungently flavored cornmeal? It is important to keep your storage area clean. Wiping down shelving with white vinegar and essential oils, such as tea tree or lemon, periodically is a good practice. If all else fails, sprinkle some food-grade diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of the cabinet to discourage unwanted pests from taking up residency.
Get your nose into the bag or container. Cornmeal should have little to no odor. It should smell slightly sweet and nutty, but not strongly scented. If your cornmeal smells a little sour or musty, it is a sign that the meal is either rancid or has attracted mold. Your cornmeal is not appetizing at this point.
Cornmeal is white, yellow, or blue. If yours looks gray, green, or brown, chances are pretty good it has been contaminated with mold, invaded by moisture, or has suffered from freezer burn. Yuck.
Cornmeal should feel dry and fall easily through your fingers when picked up with your hand. It should never be sticky in texture or be in clumps.
If you still really aren’t sure if the cornmeal has gone bad, take a small amount and taste it. It should taste clean and a little bit sweet. If there is a strong flavor that is unappealing, chances are the cornmeal has turned and could make you sick if eaten.
Cornmeal is a delightfully popular ingredient in many dishes. It is especially coveted by southern cooks and a staple in Mexican cuisine. The food is a really good value and can feed many. If stored properly, you can significantly prolong the shelf life of this versatile grain. Try using some of the tips here for storing cornmeal and for determining if it is still fresh.