In a perfect world, we would all buy our fruit and vegetables every few days. They’d be fresh and ripe (and ideally from a neighbouring country and not shipped halfway across the world). With just what we need at home.
Sadly, the world is not so perfect and we have to stock our fresh produce for days we can’t go to the shop. The food is sometimes not quite ripe then, but too ripe by the time we want to eat it.
In order to keep it in the best possible condition (and retain the important vitamins), there are some dos and don’ts we should be aware of, but often aren’t. All too often, people keep all their vegetables (and sometimes fruit) in the fridge, when in fact it is detrimental to most of our produce.
Our most common mistake are tomatoes. Hands up who keeps their tomatoes in the fridge?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. But you should stop.
The cold temperatures damage the membranes inside the fruit (yes, fruit) and the tomato loses it’s texture and flavour. They then taste like the semi-ripe ones you can find in a supermarket in the dead of winter. After all, have you ever seen tomatoes grow in 4 to 7 degrees? Neither have we.
So instead, keep them out at room temperature and they will ripen a little more after you’ve bought them. (Factor this in when you shop.)
Foods ripening foods
We won’t get too scientific, don’t worry, but there is a basic rule to understand when it comes to produce. There are two types of produce: the ones which produce ethylene, and the ones which are sensitive to it.
Ethylene is a gas which speeds up the ripening process.
For for example, ethylene producing foods are: apples, avocados, ripe bananas, (most) berries, grapes, kiwi, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, potatoes, and tomatoes.
The gas they produce is not harmful, but can speed up the ripening of other more sensitive foods very quickly, to a point where they go off.
Ethylene sensitive foods are for example: green or unripe bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, kale, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes.
So you can see how keeping your tomatoes and your cucumber or your potatoes and onions together can be detrimental to some of them.
Unless of course, you want that food to ripen quickly. If you need ripe bananas and the ones in store were still almost green, put them in a paper bag with a food from the first group (an apple or a ripe banana you have left over) and it will make the ripening process go faster.
A few ideas on how to store your food
Potatoes and onions should always be stored in cool dark places (remember they grow below ground), at around 10 degrees. That is, outside of the fridge.
You can keep your avocados in the fridge to slow down the ripening process (buying them exactly right can be tricky), but remember to take them out in the morning and keep them on the counter until you use them in the evening.
If you find your lemons harden too quickly when they are out on the kitchen counter, try storing them in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge. This will make them last more than twice as long. This works for limes and oranges as well.
If you are storing berries, do not wash them until you eat them. Water makes it more likely for mould to grow.
Keep salad greens in airtight containers or sealed plastic bags when you put them in the fridge.
Foods you can keep at room temperature: beans (green), cucumber, eggplant, garlic, oranges, zucchini.
Food to keep at room temperature to ripen (these can go into the fridge if you don’t eat them once they are ripe): apricots, kiwi, mango, melons, peaches, pears, pinapple, plums.
Food you can keep in the fridge: asparagus, (most) berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, lettuce, parsley.