Friday, November 7, 2014

Frugal Friday: Buying and Storing Whole Grains

One way to both eat healthier and more frugally is to cook from scratch using whole grains. I love to use a variety of whole grains in my cooking. I've found that it's a lot cheaper to buy whole grains in large quantities, but most of us can't use 25 lbs. of wheat or quinoa every week. So we will need to find a way to store these whole grains so that they can remain fresh and bug-free while we are using them. Today I'd like to share some tips that I use in my family for buying and storing whole grains.

Buying Whole Grains
I get a lot of questions about where I buy my grains. Today I'd like to answer this for you as best as I can. A lot of it will depend on where you live and what's available in your area.

I posted a few years ago about what to include in a frugal pantry which includes a lot of the grains that I buy on a regular basis. If you look through my recipes you will notice that I use a lot of the following grains:
Brown Rice
White Wheat
Oats (Oat Groats and Quick Oats are what I usually use)
White Quinoa
I use others as well but these are the grains I use the most often in my recipes. All of these with the exception of brown rice store very well long term so I buy them in bulk (25 or 50 lb. bags). I usually inventory once (sometimes twice) a year and decide how much I have of each grain and how much I am going to buy. Because I cook our family's food from scratch almost exclusively, we go through a lot of grains. Just making our family's bread for example uses 10-12 cups of white wheat for a 6-loaf batch. And I make a batch about every week to ten days.

After I've created my inventory of what I have and what I need, I spend a few days shopping around for the best prices. Prices vary on these grains depending on the year and the time of year. Some places won't give prices over the phone, but I'll jot down the prices when I'm in the store so I can keep track. When you buy several hundred pounds of grains at a time it saves quite a bit of money to shop a little bit for the best prices. I always buy more than I'll need for the year so that I have time to shop around before I run out completely.

Here are the places that you can look into to compare prices:
  1. WinCo Foods - This is a specific store chain that may or may not be in your area, but it's local to me and I find a lot of what I need at this store. They have bins that contain a lot of the grains that I use. But I usually buy my grains in bulk bags. Some of the bags of grains they have on shelves in the store and some you have to ask about special ordering. I've ordered these on the phone before and picked them up on my next trip. There's is a small discount for buying the grains in bulk instead of just from the bins and with the quantities that I buy it's usually worth it.
  2. Rainy Day Foods - A great online source for many of these bulk grains is Rainy Day Foods. I bought from them last year for the first time and I was very happy with the products. If you don't live near them you will have to pay a bit for shipping. I live near a drop off location, however, and was able to order them and pay for a lot less shipping through their regular shipping delivery truck. You may want to call and see if that's a possibility where you live. There's also a possibility to get together with some friends and create a very large order to save on shipping.
  3. Azure Standard - I bought from them for the first time this year and was satisfied with the products and prices. Again they have options to deliver at a drop off location which saves considerably on shipping. 
  4. Health Food Stores - usually health food stores are one my last resorts for shopping because they are usually more expensive. But if I can't find them at the other places I will shop there. I again ask for the bulk prices (rather than buying the grains in the bins or smaller bags) and they will usually discount for ordering in larger quantities. 
I'm always keeping my eye out for these grains during other times of the year (even after I've bought what I need). Once I found spelt at Walmart in 6 gallon buckets for nearly half the price of anywhere else I had seen. Unfortunately I think it was a close-out sale and I haven't seen it there since. But if you keep your eyes out you'll find great deals and can save quite a bit of money on buying grains.

Storing Whole Grains
Most grains (with a few exceptions like brown rice) have a extremely long shelf life. As in at least 25 years, and some have been proven to still germinate even after hundreds of years. That's one of the amazing properties of grains. You do need to store the grains properly in order to ensure that they will store well for a long time.

Heat, air, moisture, insects, and rodents are the enemies to whole grains. Heat increases spoilage and decreases health benefits of grains by killing their germination properties. Moisture allows for mold and bacteria to grow, which can lead to spoilage and illness. Insects and rodents eat and destroy grain (not to mention they are just disgusting).  By selecting your storage containers and conditions carefully and rotating the grains you store properly, you can ensure that those enemies will be defeated and your grain will store for a long time.
  • Storage Containers - Make sure the containers you use to store grains in are airtight with tight-fitting lids or closures. Also the containers should be rodent proof, meaning they can't be bitten through. I use 5-gallon hard plastic food grade buckets for all of my long-term grain storage. Make sure the buckets are food grade and have not been previously used to store anything toxic. 
  • Storage Conditions - Ideally grain should be stored in a low temperature (40-70 degrees or less), low humidity environment, that is out of direct sunlight. We store our grains in the non-heated side of our basement. The garage or attic would not be a good place to store grain as the temperature fluctuates too much and would cause the grain to spoil quicker. Store buckets off of the floor, especially concrete. Concrete can wick moisture to the containers very easily or leech chemicals (even through buckets) into stored foods. I try to by my grain from good sources where I can be sure they are cleaned and generally insect free. But as an extra precaution, I always add oxygen absorbers to each five gallon bucket before I seal it. Each oxygen absorber (300 cc) will absorb the oxygen up to 1 gallon, which will kill the insects and larvae living in that space. I use 5 oxygen absorbers (300-cc/each) for each 5 gallon bucket. I buy my oxygen absorbers here. After opening the oxygen absorber package, I quickly transfer the absorbers to the buckets that I am sealing, lock the lids tightly, and then put the remainer in a 1/2 gallon airtight mason jar and seal it with a new lid. You have to work quickly because the absorbers start absorbing oxygen immediately and will only absorb a limited amount before they stop working. You want to make sure you will still have absorbency left in the absorbers when you later place them in the five gallon buckets. If you are interested, there are some other methods I found to help control insects here. They are interesting to learn about, but I always use the absorbers because of how easy and effective they are.
  • Storage Rotation - Making sure you are using the grains you store on a regular basis, will ensure that they will be the freshest and least likely to spoil. I label each bucket with what is inside as well as the date it was sealed. Then I store the buckets on heavy duty shelves, with the oldest used first. I use buckets with these gamma seal lids with the oldest grains that I am currently using to fill my pantry. They are more expensive then the regular bucket lids, but they make it easy to rotate and use the grains. When the bucket I am using becomes empty, I open the next oldest bucket and pour it into my gamma-lid bucket to use. Then I keep the empty buckets (still labeled) to help me decide what I need to buy the next time I buy grain. These buckets can then be refilled, add new oxygen absorbers and then re-sealed. You may eventually need to replace the lids if they become compromised or not fit tightly any more. 
Finally I'll share a few products that I use in storing whole grains. These are affiliated Amazon links and I do receive a small profit if you click and buy from here, but please still do your research as it may not be your best price, value, or option.

Now it's your turn for questions or comments. Where do you buy whole grains? Do you have any tips or ideas to share on buying or storing grains? Or questions? I'd love to hear them.

Happy Frugal Friday. Have a great weekend!

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