Modern society is drawn towards freshness and longevity and we have come to associate those gains with refrigerated technology. Add to that the scaremongering of a germaphobic community and the tendency when we return from grocery shopping is to throw it all into the fridge so it will last longer. The issue is that in our climate, a lot of the items in our fridges don’t actually need to be in there and will last longer and stay fresher outside of the cold environment. Here is the right way to store certain food and what items should not be in your fridge.
Many fruits need time to ripen after you buy them and for some, the ideal conditions for ripening are at room temperature as a cold environment can halt the process. Fruit like bananas, avocado, pears, kiwis and stone fruits like plums, peaches and apricots will get mealy if refrigerated before they are fully ripe and should be kept outside until they are ready to eat.
Whole fruit like melons, cantaloupes and pineapples should be stored out of the fridge until they are cut and sliced, after which the cool temperature helps to preserve the fruit.
Tomatoes, like other fruits, will go mealy and lose their flavour in the fridge. They also lose their fleshy texture as they go soft and are not appetising. Keep them in a ventilated area and on the windowsill if they need ripening.
The cold in your fridge makes other vegetables soft and lose their flavour. Things like squashes, cucumber, garlic and peppers, even chili peppers, should be kept on the counter or vegetable rack outside of direct sunlight.
Onions can go into the fridge but only after they are cut and make sure and keep leftover onion in an airtight container or your other produce will absorb the aromas.
The cold temperature in your fridge causes the sugar molecules in honey and maple syrup to crystallise. Your jars and bottles will solidify into a hard block unless they are kept at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
Similarly to honey, keeping chocolate spread and peanut butter in the fridge causes the sugars to solidify and the spreads will harden.
Lots of people keep their ketchup in the fridge but it is totally unnecessary. The vinegars and preservatives in it means it will last for a long time in the darkness of the press.
Sauces & Oils
Just like ketchup, the vinegars and preservatives in soy sauce and hot sauce will keep them from spoiling. The peppery flavours in hot sauces are much more potent when they are kept at room temperature too.
With other sauces like salad dressings and combined sauces, you only have to watch out for those containing dairy. Oil and vinegar based ones do not need refrigerating but should be kept in a cool, dry place well away from the oven.
Some oils with a lower saturated fat content can be kept in the fridge but the fats in them might still solidify.
Coffee has natural oils that keep the beans full of flavour. The humidity and cold temperature in the fridge can damage those oils whether the beans are whole or ground. Airtight containers in the press are best for storing coffee so no moisture can get in.
Nuts also have natural oils and keeping them in the fridge can prevent these oils from going off. The cold environment can stifle the flavour though and some are known to absorb odours from other foods.
Moisture is the arch nemesis of ground spices and dried herbs. The humid atmosphere in your fridge is a quick way to make them clumpy. There’s no need, leave them on the spice rack or in the press, you probably never use half of them anyway.
Fresh herbs don’t need to go near the fridge either, it removes flavour and makes them limp. Once you have taken what you need, pop the rest in a glass of water on the counter and treat it like a little plant.
You might not believe this but apparently some people keep their sugar, salt and pepper in their fridge. Just like the other dried products, the humidity will make them clump and useless. This is also the reason you shouldn’t grind salt over a steaming pan.
Where you keep your bread seems to depend on where you live and what kind of climate you are exposed to. Most breads in Ireland will be fine on a shelf or in a bread bin but when we get one or two nice days in the summer it might be a good idea to pop it in the fridge. It’s a catch 22, the fridge will keep mould away and make the bread last longer but it will dry it out. The freezer is the best way of storing surplus bread.
Another contentious issue based on location. British hens have been vaccinated against salmonella since 1997 so there are much fewer cases of it in the UK and Ireland. In America though, the hens are not vaccinated and the protective natural seal on the eggs is washed off. That is why they refrigerate them. This seems to be a common theme in warmer countries, just like bread storage. Refrigerated eggs will last longer but the cold environment alters their texture and changes how they react in baking and cooking.
Personal taste will sway most people on the topic of drinks but it is generally accepted that cold drinks are nice and refreshing. The exceptions to the accepted rules are certain ales, craft beers and dark spirits such as rums and whiskeys. The cold environment affects the make up of these drinks and changes them completely. A surprising one to note is that certain wines need to be kept at specific temperatures to get the full impact. So before you pop a bottle of your favourite into the fridge for a few hours, check with the producer guidelines on storage and ideal drinking temperatures.
Not all cakes need to be stored in the fridge, and some will spoil quicker inside one. It depends on the contents of course, if you can wrap or seal your cake properly, it should be fine at room temperature. If you have a cake that is full of cream however, the cream is the issue and not the cake itself. Again you are faced with a catch 22, in the fridge the cream is made safe but the quality of the cake will be affected. Always check with the producer to be sure.
According to chocolate expert Niall Daly of The Chocolate Shop, storing chocolate and chocolatey products in the fridge alters the molecular state of them. The chemical make up of the chocolate is changed which affects the texture, quality and, most importantly, the flavour of it.
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo