Humans have been preserving food with snow and ice for at least 3,000 years, but the first commercial refrigerators, produced around the turn of the 20th Century, were a game-changer. Home refrigeration units made it possible for the first time in history to keep perishable foods fresh in quantity.
But every advance comes with a dark side. In the case of refrigerators, one downside is that many people store everything in the fridge, regardless of whether it needs to be.
While some foods absolutely require refrigeration, many don’t, and others that should be left at room temperature. Here’s a list of foods that do better if you skip the fridge:
- Tomatoes: If you take nothing else away from this article, please heed this. Never, ever, under any circumstances, store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Tomatoes begin to lose their flavor and texture when put in the fridge, turning mealy, mushy, and flavorless. Leave them right out on the counter.
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes: Yes, potatoes are supposed to be kept in a cool, dark place, so the fridge should be ideal, right? Wrong. The refrigerator is actually too cold. Low temperatures wreak havoc on potatoes’ natural starches, affecting both their texture and flavor. Instead, store them in a paper bag.
- Apples, Pears: You can refrigerate these fruits, but you don’t need to. The cold air inside the refrigerator tends to break down their crisp texture. Leave them out on the counter. But if you prefer your fruit cold, go ahead and refrigerate.
- Peaches, plums, cherries: Stone fruits should not be refrigerated. Store them out on the counter and enjoy them as soon as they’re ripe.
- Oranges, lemons, limes, clementines: Store citrus fruits on the counter. Keep close tabs on them, though, as one moldy fruit will spread.
- Berries: Fresh berries aren’t meant to last long. Leave them out and enjoy them over a few days.
- Melons: Store whole melons on the counter. The refrigerator will turn their flesh mealy. Once cut, leftovers can be stored in the fridge.
- Bananas: Refrigerating bananas will turn their peels prematurely brown and change their texture. Store them out on the counter and peel and freeze them for banana bread once they become overripe.
- Onions, garlic: Storing these pungent alliums in the refrigerator will not only impart their smell onto other foods, but will also soften them over time. Store them in a paper bag.
- Honey, jam, maple syrup: Honey and real maple syrup will crystallize if stored in the fridge. Store them it at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. While it’s fine to refrigerate jams and jellies, it’s also OK to leave them out after opening.
- Avocados: Store whole avocados on the counter. If they’re very soft, you can get a few extra days by putting them in the fridge, but you’ll pay for it in flavor. It’s better just to enjoy them right away.
- Bread: While many people refrigerate bread to keep it from going stale, doing so actually dries it out faster. Store it in a dark cupboard or bread box.
- Butter: There’s nothing worse than trying to spread rock hard butter. The good news is there’s no need. Depending on temperatures, you can store butter on the counter, covered, for a week or so. The best plan is to refrigerate butter and take it out one stick at a time. If the weather is very hot, you may opt for smaller quantities.
- Peppers: Store peppers in a paper bag. The refrigerator will soften their crisp texture.
- Winter squash: Store acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squash right out on the counter.
- Pickles: Pickles have enough sodium—a natural preservative—to keep them safe for a long time. The only reason to refrigerate them is if you prefer to enjoy them cold.
- Coffee: Refrigerating coffee beans or grounds saps them of moisture and flavor. Store them in the cupboard.
And here’s a puzzle for the ages:
18. Eggs — to refrigerate or not to refrigerate? In Europe, no one refrigerates eggs, but in North America we do. Does that mean we don’t need to? Turns out in the U.S. eggs are processed differently (we wash away the “bloom” – the microscopic protective layer on eggs). Here on the other side of the pond, if you buy supermarket eggs, it’s a good idea to refrigerate them, unless they’ve been boiled. Hard boiled eggs are safe to keep out on the counter for a few days.