5 Types of Cereal Grains and their Shelf Life


Cereal grains are not only a staple, they are a means of survival to humanity. There are myriads of grains. However, this article tackles only 5 types of cereal grains and their shelf life.


The common oat is a cereal grain popularly eaten as oatmeal. This grain is grown sorely for the seeds (oats) for human consumption.

Oats are also used as livestock feed. Considered whole grains, oats are processed in their entirety, without the removal of bran or any other parts.

As such, oats are touted for their health benefits. Oats come in many forms – oat groats, steel cut oats, rolled oats, instant oats or Scottish oats.

Nutritionally, oats are rich in soluble dietary fiber, contain around 14% of protein content, rich in B-vitamins, minerals like potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, carbohydrates, phytochemicals such as lignans and phytic acid.

These are some of the ways you can use oats:

  • As a breakfast cereal – oat porridge or overnight oats
  • In baking – combine oats with other ingredients of your choice. Make delicious treats such as cookies, cakes, cobblers, truffles and snack bars.
  • In granola bars
  • In beauty – use oats in exfoliating your skin. The husky texture works well in scrubbing the skin.
  • For dairy-free diets, you can make oat milk as a substitute for dairy products.

Shelf life of oats

Packaged oats have a fairly long shelf life, if optimal storage conditions are observed. Store them in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat.

Unopened oats – steel cut, rolled or instant last up to 2 years at best quality. Once opened, always keep the containers tightly sealed to prevent entry of contaminants.

Cooked oats have a short shelf life. Refrigerate any leftovers and consume within 5 days.


Considered a native to Asia, barley is among the first cereal grains to have been cultivated. Scientifically known as Hordeum vulgare, the use of barley in the modern day has regressed.

Barley is mostly cultivated for use in livestock feeds and beer brewing. However, a small percentage goes to human consumption.

Barley used for cooking comes as hulled barley, pot, flakes or pearled barley. It is common among bread artisans who produce special forms of bread using diverse grains.

Whole barley has a tough hull which can be cumbersome for human consumption. As such, most stores and markets sell the hulled type.

Pearled barley is the least nutritious, since it is highly processed. When baking with barley flour, use a smaller ratio and more wheat. This is because its gluten component is lower than wheat. You can also use barley in breakfast cereals, granola bars or as an additional ingredient in breads.

Shelf life of barley

Like other cereal grains, dry barley can last fairly long when properly stored. Store in a cool, dry place away from moisture and heat.

Both opened and unopened barley can last a whopping 2 years. Once in a while, you can aerate the grains by spreading them out in sunlight for a few hours. Keep containers tightly closed at all times.

Barley flour has a shorter shelf life, especially whole barley. The hull contains fats which make the flour expire faster.

Store barley flour in the pantry. Use within 3 months after opening.


Rye is a popular grain in Scandinavian and northern European countries. In fact, rye bread is more common than wheat in some of those nations.

In Germany, whole rye bread is popular. Rye has a lower gluten than wheat. Rye breads are thus denser.

Popular rye bread recipes utilize sourdough, whereby the flour is fermented before being used.

Nutritional components of rye include: great dietary fiber; numerous B-vitamins; high starch levels; low fat levels; mineral like iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. You can use rye in these ways:

  • In baking – bread, cookies
  • As a breakfast cereal – porridge, grits
  • As a side dish – steam or boil the grains just like you would rice or quinoa.
  • In alcohol distillation – rye is usually used in making distilled alcohols.

Shelf life of rye

Whole grain rye can last up to 6 months in the pantry. Processed grains last much longer, up to 1 year. Whole rye flour turns rancid fairly quickly. Consume within 3 months.


Also known as maize, corn is one of the most useful grains globally. Thought to have originated in the Americas, corn has been domesticated for thousands of years.

Native Americans and Mexicans are touted for being the original consumers of corn, before its use spread to other regions.

In the modern day, the United States of America leads in maize production and exportation. Corn is valued for its versatility.

Culinary use is just a fraction of the uses of corn. Did you know that corn is used in cosmetics, soap making, fuel making, drug, food additives, beverage making, biodegradable products, livestock feed? The list is endless.

As such, corn cultivation is instrumental in promoting human sustenance. You will find corn in various forms – ground into flour, seeds removed from the cob or others sold in their cob.

Nutritionally, the humble maize has its fair share of nutritional value. Whole maize is rich in dietary fibre. Additionally, it contains vitamins E and plenty of B vitamins such as thiamine, niacin and folate.

Maize is gluten free hence is a great choice for gluten intolerant people. Moreover, yellow corn contains a powerful antioxidant called beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A that promotes healthy vision.

How to use corn

  • In porridge – cornmeal is a great option for making porridge.
  • As a breakfast cereal. Cornflakes are a popular breakfast cereal.
  • In many African cultures, corn flour is cooked in hot water and mixed until it forms a solid mass. This forms part of the main dish and is served with savory stews with vegetables. A similar variation is the polenta.
  • As corn starch – this is a common pantry item used mainly as a thickener.
  • Popcorn – these are seeds of a tough corn variety which are usually enjoyed as a snack.
  • Fresh corn on the cob – you can roast, steam or boil fresh corn and serve as a side dish. You can also use on salads.
  • In baking – corn bread is a popular hearty dish prepared by baking in the oven or on a stove top using a skillet.

Shelf life of corn

The shelf life depends on storage conditions as well as state of the corn. Grains have a longer shelf life compared to flour.

Intact corn grains last up to 6 months in the pantry. Ensure you store in a cool, dry area. Moisture causes aflatoxins in maize. Contaminated maize is highly poisonous when consumed.

Corn flour or whole grain corn are best consumed within a short period. In the pantry, they can keep good quality for 3 months.

Cooked corn has the shortest shelf life. Consume within days to maximize on nutrients.

Freeze any cooked grains in Ziploc bags and use within 1 month.


You cannot mention cereals without wheat popping up. Considered a focal point in human food consumption, wheat is arguably a crucial food commodity for humanity. Not only is wheat a versatile cereal, it is pocket friendly too.

Wheat has been cultivated for hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, Egyptians are considered the pioneers of wheat exploitation.

Bread making is attributed to Egyptians who discovered the effect of yeast in gluten. Notwithstanding, wheat production spread to other regions mostly through trade.

There are different wheat varieties. However, the two most common are durum, which is used in pasta making and hard wheat, used mainly in bread making. Soft wheat is another variety that is used in cake and all-purpose flour.

Wheat has unique nutritional components. As a matter of fact, it conjures opposing views regarding its health value. Nevertheless, wheat has high levels of insoluble fiber, contains vitamins E and several Bs, minerals such as iron, magnesium and traces of sodium, calcium as well as fat.

Shelf life of wheat

Out of the 5 types of cereal grains and their shelf life, wheat grains have been known last indefinitely, some up to 30 years. However, this trickles down to storage conditions.

Wheat flour has a shorter shelf life. Once opened, utilize wheat flour within months – 3 at most. Store in a cool, dry place away from moisture and heat.

Do Cereals go bad? Tell-tale signs of Spoilage

Here are 3 tips to help you identify ineffective cereal:

  1. Sour tasting cereals indicate rancidity or aflatoxins. Do away with them to avoid food poisoning.’
  2. Discoloration indicates overstayed cereals. Look out for dark patches that stand out from the usual color of the stored grains.
  3. Oozing of insects or worms in cereals also indicate expiration. Do away with them immediately.

Cereals form part of staple commodities that humans survive on. These 5 types of cereal grains and their shelf life represent what is consumed globally. Furthermore, being aware of their shelf life and uses gives you first-hand knowledge of how to deal with them and optimize their uses.


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