by Melissa Breyer: Liberate these foods from the fridge to let them be their best and most sustainable selves…
Small refrigerators aren’t for everyone, but you’ll frequently hear us singing their praises. They allow for smaller kitchens, use less energy, and encourage less food waste. For people who live in walkable cities, they have the added bonus of inspiring a more communal way of shopping, in which one can procure fresh ingredients during a healthy daily stroll, supporting local businesses all the while.
But small fridges don’t work if you have mountains of food to keep cold – so it’s good to know which foods like the fridge and which ones would prefer to stay out. This has two benefits: It frees up room in the refrigerator, plus it allows non-fridge-loving produce to shine in its full potential of texture and flavor. Hurray!
Putting a tomato in the refrigerator is sentencing it to a sad future in which it loses its beautiful flavor. That gorgeous, luscious taste of a tomato is determined by sugars, acids, and volatile chemical compounds. Refrigeration doesn’t affect the first two, but it basically turns off the synthesis of the volatiles, rendering the poor things bland and insipid. Free the flavor compounds! Leave your tomatoes out!
2. Cucumbers, eggplants, peppers
These tropical fruits – as strange as that sounds, I know – don’t love the cold. While they can be refrigerated, they don’t require it, and when kept too cold for their tropical little bodies, may develop pitting and soft spots.
3. Onions, shallots, garlic
While chives, green onions and ramps all prefer the cool of the fridge, their papery allium cousins – onions, shallots, and garlic – prefer a cool, dry place that is not the fridge. And note that they come in a mesh/net bag – that’s because they like to breathe, so be sure not to suffocate them with plastic.
4. Potatoes, sweet potatoes
I always want to put potatoes in the refrigerator because it seems like it should stop them from becoming alien creatures before I am ready to use them. But scientists say to leave them out, because of all the surprising things: potential cancer risk! One study concludes: “Don’t keep raw potatoes in the fridge. At low temperatures, an enzyme called invertase breaks down the sugar sucrose into glucose and fructose, which can form acrylamide [a chemical linked to cancer] during cooking.” Into a dark and dry spot the potatoes go.
5. Summer fruits
Peaches, plums, cherries – all stone fruits with pits – will become mealy and flavorless if put in the fridge before they’ve had a chance to ripen. As the Los Angeles Times explains, “When under-ripe stone fruit is chilled below 50 degrees, the ripening process is stopped and all of those wonderful flavors and aromas never get a chance to appear.” They can eventually go in the fridge once they are properly ripe – but you will likely devour them all at that point anyway.
6. Winter squashes
Does anyone put winter squashes, like butternut and acorn, in the fridge? They are so gorgeous that they deserve a starring role on the counter. But aside from their good looks, their flavor is better when they are left out.
7. Some melons
Melons with rough netted skins (like cantaloupe) will continue to ripen after they’ve been picked – so do not put them in the fridge or they will not become the sweet juicy things they were destined to become. Smooth skinned melons like honeydew resist further ripening, so they won’t protest too much if they’re forced into the icebox, even if they seem juicier and better tasting at room temperature.
Avocados should only go in the fridge once they are ripe and threatening to turn into mush. Before that, they will refuse to ripen in the cold, and nobody likes hard avocados. If you eat enough avocados, the best strategy is to buy them ahead of time while still nice and hard, leave them out, and eat them as they ripen.
Oh basil, why so sensitive? Most herbs fare finely in the fridge – especially when the stems are dunked in a glass of water. But finicky basil is touchy in the cold and will turn on you by softening and turning brown when left in the fridge for too long. I find that keeping a basil bunch in water like cut flowers not only extends its life, but is pretty and makes the kitchen smell like heaven as well.