Their little legs wriggled on my spoon. How harmful could they be? Casting my eyes to each side, I watched for approaching family members as I dropped the little bugs in the sink and stirred the flour.
It would be a long battle with weevils in flour and rice. Disgusting little insects, they’re the bane of anyone who buys grains in bulk. They can invade and multiply before the urge to bake strikes again. Weevils in flour, in my pasta … in the corner joints of the cupboards.
I’ve never respected Tupperware this much in my entire life.
For years I stored open sacks of flour, prying apart the paper triangles then folding them back over as I again stored them in the cupboard. Who knows how they invaded. Contaminated grains from the supermarket? That plate of cookies sent by my kids’ grandmother?
Black flecks happen. When you train children to wash dishes, you deal with a lot of black flecks. I just wipe them from the bowl and make my no-knead artisan bread. But after I scooped the flour, ran off to scold my dogs for barking, grabbed the yeast I had forgotten, and returned, the black flecks sat on top of the flour. And they moved. I paused, yeast still in hand, and leaned close. Little legs wiggled beside those black flecks.
I threw the weevils in, flour and all, to the compost bin and scooped more out of the bag. Weevils crawled through that as well. Nearly 10 cups of flour powdered the other kitchen waste before I dug down past the weevils. And even then, a couple bugs still crawled through.
I always twitch when I see people waste food. Scowling at the flour, I grumbled and tucked the yeast away. Maybe we’d have biscuits instead. With peppered sausage and country gravy. Nobody would ever know.
There are over 6,000 insects with the name “weevil,” many of which aren’t in the same genus. I dealt with the grain weevil, which lays eggs inside kernels of wheat. These bugs can severely damage grain stores and even love pasta and prepared cereals. They burrow through paper and cardboard containers and creep beneath narrow gaps in lids. One female can lay 400 eggs which hatch within a few days.
But though they’re gross, they’re not at all harmful to humans.
I keep telling myself that. I’ll open a new, untainted bag of flour and transfer it to plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Then my family will help cook, returning the flour to the cabinet without pushing the lid down tight. I open the container with dismay. Not harmful. Protein and fiber. As I scoop off what I can and wash them down the sink, I wonder how visible they will be in my baked goods. If they stick in my teeth, will they look like pepper or will the little legs show? Perhaps I should bake a chocolate cake, just to be safe.
For a while, I had control over them. I’d by 25-lb bags of flour because 25-lb bags are one of the most economical. Knowing my family would neglect to secure lids, I portioned the flour among half-gallon mason jars and sealed them within the oven, one of the food preservation examples acceptable for dry goods. I stored all jars in the canning room except for the one currently in use. And after I scooped out my flour, I twisted the metal ring down tight.
Then someone gave me a 50-lb bag of rice. I had wheat weevils in flour. No problem. The rice didn’t sit long in its factory packaging and I never saw weaknesses in the bag. When I separated the rice into 2-cup portions and vacuum sealed them in Food Saver bags, I congratulated myself on staying ahead of the weevils.
Until I made rice.
I cut open the bag and dumped it into the hopper of the rice cooker. As I added water, I noticed tiny flecks of rice rising to the top. Is it…no, it couldn’t be. Then a grown weevil rose to join its white larvae offspring. Apparently I had rice weevils, which are in the same genus as wheat weevils but a slightly different species.
Shuddering, I listened to the guests conversing in the living room as I poured the water off as quietly as I could. Most of the bugs and larvae flowed off into the sink. Two more times I rinsed the rice, stirring it with my hands to bring any bugs up to the surface. When nothing else floated on the top and I saw no black flecks among the rice, I proceeded to cook it. Before serving, I stirred the rice and looked close. No black flecks. I sighed in relief, pulled my face into a guest-pleasing smile, and called everyone to dinner.
With each incident, I learned more. I wanted to tell my friends how to avoid weevils.
- Freeze the flour for four days after you bring it home, to kill any bugs or eggs that may be present. If you have the space, store your food in the freezer full-time.
- Keep flour in containers with tight-fitting lids and use the flour often to keep it fresh.
- Place a bay leaf in the flour to deter bugs.
- Bake your grains in the oven at 120 degrees for an hour. This will kill both eggs and live weevils in flour and rice.
- If you get bugs, remove food from the cupboards and wash the cupboards with soap and water. Finish with a little eucalyptus oil to repel new visitors. If you can afford to, throw away infested food or give it to your chickens.
- Since these critters live in your food, avoid pesticides. Pyrethrins and diatomaceous earth are non-toxic options but never apply these directly to your food.
- Remember that we have probably all eaten weevils in flour or baked goods. Eggs, a piece of a leg, in our cookies and breads. It doesn’t hurt us and it’s pretty unavoidable.
But to educate my friends, I’d have to confess that I had weevils. They’d never eat my banana bread ever again.
Or perhaps they have weevils as well and are ashamed to admit it. Listen, dear friends. Weevils are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re disgusting and highly contagious between pantries, but having these bugs doesn’t mean you have an unclean house. It means you have grains. And that you need to store your dry goods correctly.
I’m happy to say I’m now 6 months weevil-free…
Nope. Apparently not. Because, though my flours, rice, and pasta are now vacuum sealed or packed in mason jars, tidbits of grain still lurked.
I was making cheesecake. Thick, white, flour-free cheesecake. And I had a feeling I should have used the stand mixer, but instead I grabbed the handheld unit that sat in the cupboard beside the baking ingredients. I never thought about the tidbits of dough and flour that fly up into the gears; it’s just dust and a drop or two of liquid. Nothing to worry about. But as I inserted the beaters into my cream cheese and eggs then turned the mixer on, centrifugal force sprayed black weevils into my bowl. The beaters immediately folded them into the cheese. My forehead tapped against the cupboards. Unless I could chop some fresh blueberries into the cheesecake, those black flecks wouldn’t go unnoticed. Carefully folding through the batter, I picked out little bugs. The process took twice as long as the entire construction of the cheesecake.
Looks like it’s time to clean the cupboards again.
Do you have any good solutions to keep weevils at bay?