Why does my wheat smell like beets?
March 3, 2012 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Did my flour go bad? I have some wheat flour from a small local farm. I used it to make bread today and it has an odd smell. I'm wondering if it's still okay to use or if I'll be tripping like a medieval peasant if I eat it.

The best way I can describe the smell is like beets. It's that same sort of earthy, sweet dirt smell that beets have. I used the flour two or three weeks ago and didn't notice a smell then, but I noticed it immediately today.

It has been stored in a glass jar with a gasket seal, and I have had it since the fall. According to the farm's website they grind wheat regularly throughout the year, so I think it was pretty fresh when I bought it. The farm also says this about their flour: "All our flour is unsifted whole grain. This means it contains more bran than most whole wheat flour you might buy in the grocery store. The bran is nutritious but it will also make things more crumbly."

Has anyone ever experienced this before? Does anyone have an idea what might be causing this smell? Should I get rid of it? I went ahead and baked a loaf with it, and the smell is totally gone now, but I'm worried about tasting it.
posted by apricot to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The shelf life of freshly ground whole wheat flour is about six to eight months, so it might be rancid.

"Rancid" is not synonymous with "ergotism"--all you'll be risking is bad-tasting bread, not making yourself ill.

I would taste the flour. If it tastes musty, it's rancid. Smell is hard to go by with whole-grain flours.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's probably rancid. This is why my whole grain flours (and cornmeals and nuts!) live in the freezer.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:33 PM on March 3, 2012

Response by poster: I tasted it and it doesn't taste sour. It tastes earthy, just like it smells. I've had rancid flour before and it doesn't smell the same way. I wonder if it has some kind of mold growing in it?

I think I had better throw it out, and buy a smaller amount next time, and/or keep it in the freezer. That's a good suggestion!
posted by apricot at 7:44 PM on March 3, 2012

Best answer: Yeah, don't bake with it. I used some elderly whole wheat flour recently to make bread - it just smelled kind of dusty and old but I think it may have been very old indeed - and the result was essentially inedible. For the record, though, ergot, which is the fungus that causes tripping from bread (see Hieronymous Bosch, the middle ages, St. Anthony's Fire) only grows on rye, which is then made into rye flour, so the chances that you would have been tripping balls from your wheat bread are slim.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:48 PM on March 3, 2012

Just FYI, you can get E. Coli from eating raw flour. (Not that I haven't eaten raw bread dough to monitor its fermentation.)
posted by Hither at 11:31 PM on March 3, 2012

When you used it a few weeks ago, had it been sitting in the jar for a while, or was it fresh from its bag? Sometimes when my fresh flour sits in its sealed container for a while, I notice a smell from it that I didn't when it was milled in the open. Still bakes up nicely though, so maybe it's just, I don't know, off-gassing a little of its goodness? At any rate, just keep your next jar of flour in the fridge or freezer.
posted by bluebelle at 9:09 AM on March 4, 2012

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