The nutritional value of vegetables degrades if they’re not stored properly. Many people think that sticking their veggies in the refrigerator or freezer will preserve their nutrients automatically. But it can’t be farther from the truth. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to store vegetables without refrigeration because not all veggies thrive in the cold.
On the contrary, some greens can lose nutrition, taste, and texture if they encounter low temperatures.
Eating healthy isn’t just about eating more vegetables and fruits or making sure your diet is balanced. Including fresh vegetables in your diet ensures proper growth and sustenance, but it can all go to waste if what you’re eating isn’t full of nutrients.
The truth is, some vegetables can rot in the fridge quicker than in your cellar or on the countertop.
So, if you’ve just bought a bag full of your favorite veggies to be consumed in the coming week, here are quick tips for proper handling so your storage methods can work efficiently:
- Never buy refrigerated vegetables: A simple rule to remember, once a vegetable has been refrigerated, it needs a fridge not to rot away quickly! Try to purchase fresh so you can store them as they should be stored.
- Be Wise in your Pick: Check every veggie and pick only the ones that are not bruised, nicked, or overripe as they will already have a shorter shelf life.
- Buy a Small Quantity: Don’t be tempted by low prices. Only buy what you can consume in a week or so because even if you can store them properly, veggies lose their nutritional value as time goes by!
- Carry Them Gently: Make sure not to cram or press the veggies. If they’re bruised or nicked, one rotten vegetable can ruin the entire batch.
- Don’t Wash: Don’t wash all the vegetables. Some veggies shouldn’t be washed except just before consuming them.
Now that you’ve brought the veggies home, let’s sort which ones should go to the refrigerator and which will thrive outside the fridge.
Vegetables That Prefer Room Temperature
Here are a few vegetables that can be preserved better outside the fridge because low temperatures and humidity can stop their natural processes, speed up spoilage or ruin their taste and texture.
1. Onions, Potatoes, and Garlic
All these three veggies rot quickly when exposed to moisture. Because of their layered structure, onions and garlic can develop mold or become mushy. Similarly, potatoes undergo chemical changes at low temperatures that can make them a potential cancer risk!
Hence, to prolong their shelf life and decrease health risks, keep onions and garlic outside the fridge in an open three-tier hanging basket or wooden bins with proper ventilation. Potatoes do better in dark, cool places such as in cellars. But you can also store them in the lowest basket near the floor, where it’s cooler than the rest of the room.
Your favorite juicy tomatoes are rich in acids and volatile compounds that give them their distinct flavor and taste.
Keeping tomatoes in the refrigerator stops volatile compounds’ production, ruining their taste and reducing shelf life. It’s better to keep them on the shelf, can them, or store them in the freezer in ready-to-use form.
3. Cucumbers, Peppers, and Eggplants
When exposed to cold temperatures for long, these vegetables will develop pits and wilt or rot. You can keep them on the countertop at room temperature to extend their shelf-life without altering their flavor! Else you can pickle the cucumbers and freeze peppers and eggplants in ready-to-cook form.
In short, for those vegetables that do not like refrigeration, the idea is to let them breathe in the open space or use one of the time-tested ways to preserve them without refrigeration. We’ll get to those methods in a bit.
Vegetables That Prefer Refrigeration
As discussed above, not all vegetables thrive in lower temperatures. We need to refrigerate them properly to maintain to keep their nutritional value intact. Here are a few of your favorite veggies that can’t be left on the countertop and require cold temperature or special techniques to survive longer.
1. Leafy Greens
Spinach, cabbage, chard, and kale are the green leafy vegetables that can rot pretty quickly out on the shelf.
As a rule of thumb, keep all green, leafy vegetables (except Basil) in zip-lock bags in the fridge. Toss in a few paper balls or store the leaves in layers of tissue paper because extra moisture can make them rot. It’s better not to wash them before storing them. If you must wash, let the water drain entirely and pat the leaves dry before storing them.
2. Asparagus and Broccoli
Kids may not like asparagus and broccoli, but these vegetables are rich in nutrients essential for physical growth and mental development. The key is to store them in perforated plastic bags in the fridge box and consume them within a week. Remember not to wash them before storing them because they can soak in a lot of water and rot away!
3. Carrot and Zucchini
Your favorite carrots and zucchini can last up to a few days in the fridge, but you need to prepare them for storage. Wash, peel and dice them before packing them in zip-lock bags and freeze them. You cannot thaw them before use, so store them in ready-to-cook condition.
H2: Time-Tested Methods of Preserving Fridge-Loving Veggies Without Refrigeration
If you wish to conserve energy and use your refrigerator for absolute necessities only, there are many ways to store and preserve fridge-loving veggies at room temperature. These natural food preservation methods have been in practice for centuries. Many of these techniques also improve the nutritional value and taste of these vegetables.
Here are some tried and tested methods that use natural ingredients and simple techniques to preserve the veggies.
Drying Under The Sun
It’s one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Veggies and spices like chilies, tomatoes, bitter gourds, fenugreek, and most herbs are commonly sun-dried for preservation.
The modern technique involves using a dehydrator to remove water from the veggies. You can help the planet and conserve energy by using the time-tested and efficient method of the olden times.
Hang freshly washed, peeled, and cut pieces of vegetables under the sun. Once dried, you can easily pack them away in zip-lock bags or mason jars for future use!
But isn’t pickling only for cucumbers and radishes? Certainly not! If you love biting into pickled cucumbers, you can use pickling to preserve almost all the vegetables.
Pickling not only preserves the nutrients but can also enhance the nutritional benefits of many vegetables. For example, cucumber contains a high amount of vitamin K, potassium, and antioxidants called beta-carotene and lignans. Pickling converts them into vitamin A which helps improve immunity.
The pickling method uses natural preservatives to keep the food fresh for longer. People in different parts of the world use different ways to pickle vegetables.
There are three basic types of pickling:
- Quick Pickling: Quick pickling involves blanching the vegetables in saline water to make their nutrients readily available. Then the vegetables are stored in mason jars submerged in a mixture of brine and apple cider vinegar or white vinegar.
- Lacto-Fermentation: It’s similar to quick pickling, except the veggies are not softened by heat but are allowed to ferment in saline and spices solution in the dark. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics which speed up digestion and improve immunity.
- Oil Pickling (South-Asian achar): This method involves carrots, chickpeas, radishes, and other veggies that have been carefully dipped into a mixture of mustard oil, aromatic spices, and salt for preservation through dehydration. The oil works as an air sealant, keeping the fermented pickled vegetable fresh and nutritious!
It’s undoubtedly the easiest and most commonly used method to preserve vegetables like peas, asparagus, green peas, and potatoes before they’re put in the freezer. All you need to do is wash them and cut them into pieces before dunking them in boiling water for a few minutes.
Pat them dry and store them away in plastic bags in the fridge to be used in the next few days. You can also freeze them if you plan to extend their lives by a few months.
Is boiling and blanching similar?
Not really. Boiling cooks the vegetables thoroughly while blanching only arrests some chemical reactions as it cooks them only for a few minutes. Blanching keeps the nutritional value intact as it stops the enzymes from reacting to oxygen in the air, thus keeping the produce fresh for longer.
Who doesn’t love dipping their salsa-topped nachos in some spicy, tangy tomato sauce? We all do!
Canning is a great way to preserve excess vegetables. You can make condiments such as chutneys, salsas, purees, jams, etc., and then can in an airtight container. Canned products can last a very long time. We’re talking about months and years if the canning process is foolproof.
- Water Bath Canning: It’s ideal for high-acidity foods like pickled vegetables, tangy chutneys, salsas, and tomato puree because this method doesn’t interfere with the acidity levels of the produce. Sterilize the jars and seal them shut; otherwise, you can lose your condiments to bacteria and mold. Ideally, keep the jars in the fridge and consume them in a couple of months.
- Pressure Canning: Water boils at 212oF, which isn’t enough to kill all bacteria, especially Botulism bacteria, which disintegrates at temperatures above 240oF. That’s why you will need pressure canning to extend your condiments’ shelf life and store them in cupboards instead of the fridge. However, high pressure can alter the acidity of some veggies.
Handy Storage Products for Storing Veggies Outside the Fridge
Now that you understand how you can preserve vegetables properly to retain their nutritional goodness, let’s have a quick rundown of storage products that can come in handy.
Zip-lock Bags/Plastic Bags
Zip-lock bags are easy to use and stack in the fridge or freezer. Their zip-locks are convenient for sealing off the produce, saving the veggies from germs, excessive humidity, and dehydration. Another added benefit is that they are reusable.
Three Tier Hanging Basket
These hanging baskets help store different vegetables separately. Since they’re well ventilated, they sustain onions, garlic, cucumbers, potatoes, and all the other veggies that can thrive outside the fridge.
Wooden Stacking Bins
These bins are best for keeping ethylene-sensitive vegetables separate and well-ventilated. Wooden crates also prevent humidity from affecting the veggies, increasing their shelf life by keeping them safe from overripening.
These clay pots can be used for pickling and preserving food, keeping them fresh for longer. Moreover, the bowls are inexpensive and take minimum storage space. They are stackable, and the breathable ceramic keeps the humidity levels at the right level.
Burlap bags or Gunny sacks are made of perforated material that ensures ventilation and counters humidity. These bags are used for transporting vegetables from the farms to the markets because they prevent spoilage over weeks. You can easily wash the burlap bags and store your veggies sustainably.
Why Do Vegetables Go Bad Quickly If Not Stored Properly
To fully grasp the importance of storing vegetables properly, it’s crucial to understand why they go bad quickly and why different vegetables need different conditions to thrive. Let’s go over some of the prominent reasons briefly.
Most vegetables have high water content. When they’re exposed to air for a long time, they lose their water content gradually. As a result, their skin starts to wrinkle, such as in cucumbers, potatoes, and carrots. Fresh green herbs and spinach are more delicate and wilt quickly due to dehydration.
Vegetables contain a good amount of enzymes that hold numerous health benefits. These enzymes remain active and react with the oxygen in the air.
Ever left a cut potato out in the open? They start turning brown, don’t they?
When exposed to air, the enzymes in potatoes, gourds, and similar vegetables become active, leading to a process called enzymatic browning. Hence you see the vegetable losing its natural color and turning brown quickly!
You can store veggies in the form of condiments for many months, but other than that, you can’t preserve their nutritional value for more than a few weeks.
Vegetables are living organisms that continue their life cycle even after harvesting. That’s why they start to lose nutrients and begin to decay as a natural process. You can delay it by using preservation techniques and storing the vegetables properly.
When exposed to oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air, fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas, a plant-based hormone that speeds up the ripening process.
Most vegetables are sensitive to ethylene gas and can rot quickly if stored near ethylene-producing fruits. Therefore, it’s crucial to space out ethylene-releasing produce to allow a chance of ventilation. At the same time, store ethylene-sensitive produce separately to avoid quick spoilage.
Moisture and Humidity
Vegetables need a little humidity to stay fresh within or outside the refrigerator. But of course, exposure to excessive moisture will speed up the ripening process. It can also trigger mold production and turn your veggies mushy! Fresh leafy greens are more susceptible to damage due to humidity because they already have high water content.
Vegetables tend to be high in nutrients that are necessary for our development. As much as you’d like to keep veggies handy and store them at home, it’s better to consume them as fresh as possible.
Eating stale veggies can do more harm than good. If your vegetables have already gone bad, it’s better to toss them in the compost bin so that they can return the nutrients to the environment, improve the land fertility, and give you nutrient-rich produce!
Remember, a lot of food is wasted all-round the year, hence, make sure you preserve it properly to reduce wastage and play your part in saving the environment!