Cooking for me is an art form based on science the core of which is correct understanding of ingredients and how well they work with each other. For best results in kitchen, one must learn the basics of selecting high quality ingredients and storing them right so they last longer and remain fresh.
Along with selection of best in class ingredients, it is important to store them right for retaining their essential oils, fragrance and original taste. Moisture is one of the key factor that impacts the life span of any ingredient and should be managed well by effective storage. Storing your ingredients well would not only help maintain their quality but would also limit food wastage.
Here are 5 quick tips for selecting fresh produce, storing food items right and ways to extend life span of food items:
1. How to pick fresh fruits and vegetables
The surface of fresh fruits and vegetates is mostly smooth and even, with a firm-but not rock hard-surface. If you feel pits or dents under the surface, the flesh of the fruit has probably been damaged in transit, or is beginning to rot. Citrus fruits that are too firm are likely dry on the inside. Juicy fruits and vegetables can also be judged by their weight and heaviness. Fresh produce has light aroma and is mark and spot free. Root vegetables like potatoes, garlic, and onions should be firm and tough, as well. Avoid root vegetables with cracks on the base, this means it’s too dry. For leafy vegetables, the majority of the bundle should be green, smooth, and unbroken.
2. How to store ingredients with high moisture content
We mostly stock up fresh produce for a week or fortnight in advance and store a variety of vegetable and fruits our refrigerator’s vegetable basket. It’s important to understand that fruits and vegetables have a breathing pattern and the temperature and conditions in which they are stored, impact their life and quality.
- Veggies like sweet corn, coriander, peas, broccoli, spinach and curry leaves are heavy breathers
- Apples, oranges, lemon, carrot, cabbage and green chilli etc are moderate breathers
- Plum, cherries, tomatoes, brinjal, turnip and cucumber are light breathers
Therefore, such food items should be segregated as per breather pattern and heavy breathers should be stored in containers with corrugated base which prevents moisture condensation from direct contact with fruits and vegetables to reduce spoilage. Brands like Tupperware have mastered the science of design and have products which keep fruits and vegetables fresh for a longer duration.
3. How to store dry ingredients well
When we think of dry storage, key items one can point to are – spices, dry herbs, pulses and grains. All these items have low moisture content and get easily spoiled if they come in contact with air or moisture. Therefore, they should be stored in airtight containers. Spices should be stored in a dual lid container which can dispense the amount one wishes to use at a time. My kitchen shelf is full of Tupperware spice containers, which are specifically designed to preserve the essential oils of a product and ensure that the aroma and fragrance of spices and herbs last longer. As for pulses and grains, along with an airtight container, the area of storage also matters as long exposure to dampness can also result in deterioration of contents.
4. How to extend life of certain food items
Certain food items like tomatoes, eggs, peas etc have a short shelf life. But they can be used for longer if they are frozen property and stored in freezer safe containers. One can store raw eggs in an ice tray with lid keeps them fresh and usable for up to 4 weeks. Similarly, if you notice that tomatoes are starting to get squishy, you can slice them and roast lightly, and they last for a week easily. Similarly, peas being seasonal vegetable and be blanched and frozen for good 3 to 4 months.
5. Don’t overbuy and over store
While all the above tips will help you get optimum value from your food items, it is equally crucial to plan the amount you would consume in certain duration. Do not overbuy perishable items like meat, dairy produce, leafy vegetables etc. Nothing can replace a meal made out of fresh and high quality ingredients and overstocking would always leave you worried to store old ingredients and finish them first.
Always remember, you are a sum of what you eat and therefore caring for food is like caring for oneself. So, buy right, store it right, preserve it well, have fun with food and never ever waste a grain.