This summer, we had to suddenly replace our 20-year-old refrigerator. And I thought I might need to update my U.S. Air Force pilot’s license in order to “fly” the new one — with all of its impressive high-efficiency controls and features. Eventually, we got it running smoothly.
This mid-summer ordeal reminded me how much we rely on refrigeration in the 21st century. Of course, up until the late 1800s, most Americans lived off the land — without refrigeration — and were generally well-nourished.
Then, starting in the late 1800s, more and more people moved into dense, dank, crowded urban areas. And they had limited access to fresh, whole foods, making it more difficult to obtain important vitamins and minerals. They also suffered from lack of sunshine, leading to an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, which persists to this very day.
Refrigeration changes food consumption
Of course, refrigeration changed the way we access fresh, whole foods in the 20th century. Especially in the cities, as it allowed manufacturers to distribute fresh, whole foods to more people in growing urban and suburban areas. Ultimately, refrigeration put the milkman out of business as people could keep their milk from spoiling in the “ice box” and didn’t need a daily delivery of fresh milk. (Although, funny enough, grocery home delivery seems to be coming back in style now.)
Modern refrigeration and sweating works on the same thermodynamic principle, as I recently explained. They both cool by evaporation — as hot water molecules escaping into the air take heat energy with them.
Keep in mind though, despite how modern, convenient, and roomy as today’s refrigerators may be, many nutritious whole foods don’t require refrigeration. You can store them at room temperature — which is actually preferable in many cases.
As I’ve told you before, I prefer to keep most fruits and vegetables out on the counter. It pleases the eye and prompts me to eat another piece and get in my nutrients. Good cheese and grass-fed butter also tastes better when served at room temperature.
Here’s a list of some other whole foods you can — and should — keep at room temperature…
Keep this list of foods out of the fridge
Let’s start out with a fruit people can be very particular about: bananas. Some people I know will only eat them when they’re green…and others will eat them only when they’re yellow with tiny, black dots. No matter your preference, they belong on the counter. That’s because in the fridge, they won’t ripen properly. And, once they turn yellow (if you let them), refrigeration will keep them from going black.
Basil leaves can take on smells from other foods when kept in the fridge. Plus, chilling them can make the leaves droop. If you have a bunch of fresh basil stems (or any other herb), keep it in a glass with a tiny bit of water at the bottom. Or trim a little off the bottom of the stems and wrap them in a wet kitchen towel.
As for chocolate, it’s best to keep it in a cool, dark pantry. The cooling and warming of chocolate can cause an unappetizing white coating to appear and alter its texture and taste. If your chocolate softens or melts, pop it into the fridge to cool and solidify, then eat sooner rather than later. And of course, I only recommend dark chocolate for its flavanol content, which promotes healthy blood function as well as cognitive health.
Keep coffee beans and ground coffee in air-tight containers at room temperature. In the refrigerator, they can absorb other aromas and flavors.
Let’s spend a little time talking about eggs. Some swear you need to refrigerate them. Others insist you don’t. I fall into the room-temperature camp…as the eggshell provides a sealed, sterile container for the egg’s contents.
You can actually keep intact, uncracked eggs on the counter for months. If you do keep them in the fridge, let them come to room temperature before cooking, especially when preparing them hard-boiled. It helps prevent the shells from cracking due to rapid shifts in temperature.
Eggplant definitely suffers in cooler temps as well. It can alter the taste and texture. So, just keep it at room temperature until ready to prepare in ratatouille, eggplant parmesan, or another dish.
Be sure to keep whole garlic cloves in the peels at room temperature in a dark place so they don’t sprout. This way, they’ll stay fresh for months. Once you peel and cut your garlic, seal the remainders and refrigerate. You can also can store peeled cloves in a small jar of olive oil — which will keep for many months.
Next, you should always store honey at room temperature, as refrigeration will cause it to crystallize and become granular and lumpy. It won’t spoil because it has natural antibacterial agents. In fact, in recent years, honey dating back nearly 3,000 years has been discovered by archaeologists during Egyptian tomb excavations — and impressively, it was still edible!
As for melons, when they’re intact, you can keep them at room temperature. But once cut, be sure to refrigerate them.
Olive oil is another healthy food you shouldn’t refrigerate. In fact, at cold temps, it becomes cloudy and thick. Keep olive oil in a cool, dark place like a kitchen cupboard. And only keep enough on-hand to last you about three months, as that’s how long it will stay fresh and maintain its full nutritional content.
You should keep whole onions, just like garlic, at room temperature in a dark place to prevent sprouting. Seal and refrigerate onions after cutting them. And be sure to tightly wrap them in plastic wrap or a very tight container so they don’t make your fridge or other food smell.
I know many people go back and forth on this, but I recommend keeping opened peanut butter in the pantry. It’s easier to spread at room temperature. Plus, organic nut butters and their oils can separate if they heat up, so keep in a cool, dark place.
Potatoes should not see the light of day nor be refrigerated. When cooled, the plentiful starch in potatoes will convert to sugar. Then, when you cook the potatoes, the sugar may combine with other constituents to create toxic chemicals (as if sugar isn’t toxic enough).
Certainly, refrigeration certainly helps make life easier. Plus, some things just taste better when left alone — on the counter or in the cabinet!
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