Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Follow Friday: The great tomato refrigeration debate

Image by Skånska Matupplevelser used under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr.

Image by Skånska Matupplevelser used under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr.

This blog post on Serious Eats was all over the internets a few weeks ago. According to the author’s self-proclaimed unscientific post, refrigerated tomatoes are perfectly palatable. In fact, the refrigerated tomatoes were actually found to be preferable to unrefrigerated tomatoes by the tasters.

In this “study” tomatoes were either refrigerated overnight, or left at room temperature, and then brought back to room temperature before tasting.

When i read the post, I couldn’t help but wonder if the results would have been any different if the tomatoes had been refrigerated for a longer period of time. After all, the rationale for not refrigerating tomatoes is that refrigeration may affect both the flavour and texture of tomatoes. Surely this would take more than one night to occur, and if you’re going to eat your tomatoes the following day, what’s the sense in refrigerating anyway? The only reason to refrigerate is to prolong the life span of produce. One night is not likely to be long enough to cause the complete degradation of your tomatoes.

The other thing is, the refrigerated tomatoes were brought back up to room temperature before consumption. Quite likely, the results would not have been the same if the tomatoes had been served cold.

Conclusion? Refrigerating tomatoes may extend their life span but it may also negatively affect them in some other way depending on how long you refrigerate them and if you take the time to bring them back to room temperature before you eat them.

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Keeping cool: Foods to refrigerate

I thought that it would be fitting to follow-up yesterday’s post with information on a few foods that should be refrigerated, but often aren’t:

  • Peanut butter – this applies to natural peanut butter, and other nut and seed butters such as almond butter and tahini, after opening. 
  • Nuts and seeds – this includes milled flax seed. You can keep these in either the fridge or the freezer. Because of their high unsaturated fat content they’ll go rancid more quickly if stored at room temperature and/or in light. Nut and seed oils such as sesame oil and walnut oil should also be refrigerated after opening. Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place but doesn’t need to be refrigerated unless you go through it very slowly.
  • Maple syrup – despite the high sugar content, opened maple syrup is susceptible to mould growth if not stored in the fridge. The same applies to jam and molasses.
  • Eggs – If you’ve ever been to England (or many other countries outside of North America) you may have noticed that they don’t refrigerate their eggs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can store your eggs on the countertop in Canada or the US. Because our eggs are power washed before they’re sold the porous shell becomes exposed and susceptible to contamination so, unless you’re buying unwashed eggs directly from a farmer (or have your own laying hens) you’ll need to keep your eggs in the fridge.

Where you store items in your fridge is another issue. Make sure that foods that are most likely to go “off” are stored towards the back (e.g. milk, butter, meat, tofu). Keep condiments and beverages that are less susceptible to deterioration or contamination on the door. Store meat, fish, and poultry on the bottom shelf to ensure that their juices don’t drip down and contaminate other foods. Keep fruit and vegetables in separate drawers as the gases emitted by some fruits can be detrimental to the flavour and lifespan of your vegetables.

Ideally, you should keep a thermometer in your fridge and ensure that the temperature never exceeds 4C.

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Foods not to refrigerate

I won’t tell you my inspiration for this post (to protect the guilty). Suffice to say, I’m always looking for new blog material so really they did me a favour.

Unsure about what foods to refrigerate? Here are a few that you shouldn’t refrigerate:

  • Bananas – as my old prof, Dr Kwan, used to say, refrigeration will cause “chill injury”. Bananas will turn black in the refrigerator. While this will not immediately impact the flesh, it’s none too appealing.
  • Basil – also susceptible to chill injury it will blacken and wilt prematurely if stored in the fridge.
  • Tomatoes – refrigeration will cause them to become mealy.
  • Potatoes – refrigeration affects the starch molecules in potatoes causing them to convert to more simple sugars and affecting the way they’ll cook and taste. Store in a cool dark place, in a breathable bag. Exposure to direct light can cause them to sprout faster and also to develop the toxin solanine.
  • Garlic – it will go soft faster in the fridge. Store in a similar manner to potatoes.
  • Squash – winter squash has a longer shelf life outside of the fridge. Summer squash, such as zucchini, is also susceptible to chill injury and is best stored on the countertop.