Having a diet full of fruits and vegetables is a wonderful goal. The health benefits are numerous, and flavorful, satisfying recipes abound. However, if not stored or appropriately treated, the shelf-life of seasonal produce can mean throwing away food – a significant issue in the United States. Not only can that strain your budget and your health, but food waste is a growing environmental concern. The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do today to help stem the flow of waste, reduce your number of visits to the market, and ease the strain on your wallet. Read on for our favorite tips for extending the life of your prized seasonal produce.
Whether you have a secret (or not so secret) fondness for avocado toast, love snacking on avocado chips, or can’t wait to try all of Food & Wine’s favorite guacamole recipes, dishes made from organic avocados will always tempt you. Unfortunately, if not treated correctly, this delicious, though slightly pricey, seasonal fruit can go bad quickly. If your avocados are already getting softer and darker green, don’t hesitate to put them in your refrigerator. As Martha Stewart Living explains, “the cold air dramatically slows down the ripening process.”
What happens if you only need half of the avocado? Once the avocado is sliced, enzymes are released that react to air, turning the remaining section brown. But never fear, lemons can come to your rescue. One of Shape’s favorite ways of extending the life of your avocado is to “cover the cut flesh with a thin layer of lemon juice, then a sheet of plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge.” It halts the oxidation process – saving your produce and your grocery budget. If you are more gadget focused, there are handy “freshness keepers,” such as the Joie Avocado Fresh Pod, that will wrap and seal the leftover fruit to keep it from browning.
Is there anything more delicious than a tomato that is harvested in the summer or early fall? From June through October, this seasonal produce is at its most flavorful. From Food & Wine’s heirloom tomatoes stuffed with summer succotash to a bacon and tomato salad that turns heads, you’ll love every bite. Stored improperly, organic tomatoes can turn mealy and lose the delectable juicy, sweetness you crave. As Reilly Brock at Imperfect Produce reveals to Martha Stewart Living, refrigeration of uncut, unripened tomatoes will not only attack the flavor but the texture, as “the cold temperature breaks down the membranes inside the fruit.” Instead, Brock recommends finding a spot on your countertop, away from direct sunlight, to store them as they ripen.
Berries, Berries, and More Berries
Summer finds berries bursting with flavor and enticing anyone who loves snacking on the fruit, mixing them into parfaits, adding them to muffins, or baking them into the most tantalizing pies. Blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, and more are ready for the harvest, with many enjoying strong growth well into the fall. The temptation to buy baskets of this seasonal produce may be strong. But if you bring them home and immediately wash them, you may be limiting their shelf-life. As the experts tell Shape: “Moisture encourages berries to spoil, so wait to rinse them off until just before you’re ready to chow down.” They also recommend periodically checking through your container to ensure that none of the berries have gone off. If so, pick them out – spoiled fruit has a way of hastening the decline of the fruit around it. To further reduce mold setting in, you’ll want to make sure the berries are dried with a clean tea towel or paper towel before being placed in a breathable container. Putting berries into a refrigerator can extend the life of ripened fruit. Still, experts recommend keeping this seasonal produce out of the crisper, as it doesn’t allow for as much air circulation.
Do you have vinegar in your pantry? Soaking your berries in a water-diluted solution of vinegar can slow down the growth of bacteria. As long as you dry them thoroughly before storing them in the refrigerator, this easy trick can help your fruit last longer.
Have you bought too many berries to possibly use before they become over-ripe? Freezing at their peak ripeness can dramatically extend the life of your favorite seasonal produce. Real Simple advises: “Berries, like strawberries, can simply be washed, trimmed, and frozen on a baking sheet” to avoid clumping. Are you concerned that the trays might take up too much valuable freezer space? Author Jennifer Tyler Lee tells the Magazine that “[simmering] down 12 ounces of fresh berries, like raspberries, with [two] tablespoons of maple syrup to make a simple fruit compote” that can then be more easily stored in the freezer.
As with most fresh, seasonal produce, the benefits of eating leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuce are numerous. It doesn’t hurt that the greens can be delicious, both cooked and raw, in a multitude of dishes. Depending on how much you purchase, or pick from your thriving backyard garden, it can be challenging to keep your leafy greens from wilting before you get a chance to incorporate them into meals. The solution may be as simple as adding a paper towel to your bag of greens. The experts at Shape reveal: “The disposable cloth will absorb any moisture that forms while your greens are chilling in the fridge, keeping the leaves from wilting.” It’s a trick that will leave you smiling at the first crisp bite and dramatically reduce the amount of bagged greens that end up in your garbage.
Potatoes and Onions
There is no quicker way to make your potatoes go off than to store them in the same bin (or refrigerator compartment) as your onions. That may seem like a contradiction, as both love cool, dark places, and keeping them out of the heat will allow them to last longer. Alas, onions release a gas that will make the potatoes sprout and eventually go green (which can be dangerous). Always keep them separate. Moisture is also the enemy of longevity for potatoes. Using paper bags, breathable cloth bags, or stacking them in a box, will help you keep the moisture and light away from your spuds.
Expert Reilly Brock tells Martha Stewart Living that onions also need to be stored in “a dark and well-ventilated place,” away from other produce. Never store uncut onions in plastic bags, as the humidity can hasten spoilage. Before they are cut, they can be stored in baskets in your kitchen cabinet, pantry, or cellar. Once cut, they can be placed in a container and frozen or put into a resealable bag in the refrigerator. If you are looking for a gadget that contains odor and retains the moisture of a cut onion, consider a produce helper like the Hutzler Onion Saver.
Carrots, Beets, and Turnips
Organic turnips, beets, and carrots are often sold with their tops, as is the case with many other root vegetables. Unfortunately, if you store them in the refrigerator with the tops still on, this seasonal produce will go bad faster. All the moisture is being pulled into the tops and away from the root. Martha Stewart Living suggests removing the tops of root vegetables before storing them. The Magazine explains: “If you remove any stems and tops from beets and turnips, both will last for months.” Your crisper drawer is the perfect spot, whether you choose to store them in a container or just wrap each one before placing them in the drawer. But don’t throw out the tops! Not only can they be used as substitutions for things like parsley or chard, but the chefs at Martha Stewart Living loves beet tops; “they are a delicious cooked green.”
Apples and Bananas
Like onions and potatoes, apples and bananas should be kept away from other produce. “Both release ethylene gas as they ripen and can cause other fruits and vegetables to ripen faster and, therefore, go bad more quickly,” according to the pros at Martha Stewart Living. Alone in a crisper drawer or a bowl on the counter (away from direct sunlight), apples can live on for months. Go ahead and purchase or pick as many as you want when they are at their best in the early fall. Even if you don’t get around to baking them into pies or snacking on them right away, your delicious seasonal produce will still delight.
Bananas should not be stored in the refrigerator, but they can be placed into a paper bag, away from light, if you want to slow down their ripening. Even if you and your family love home-baked banana bread, you may find yourself fretting about your rapidly browning fruit. The good news is that you can freeze bananas for later use. Just peel them once they are ripe, chop them into manageable pieces and place them into containers in your freezer. They’ll be ready for smoothies, banana muffins, and dozens of other tasty treats whenever you want them.
Citrus will always suggest sunny days, whether you serve it as part of a refreshingly tangy summer dish, in a light cocktail, or as an ingredient in a thoroughly decadent pound cake. Food experts agree that citrus can usually be kept at room temperature before the produce reaches peak ripeness. While seasonal favorites, such as grapefruit, can last a couple of weeks if stored at room temperature, refrigeration can extend its life. Limes and lemons, according to Martha Stewart Living, “in an open container in your crisper drawer . . . will keep fresh for over a month.”
Has your citrus already started to turn? No problem! Real Simple suggests you can extend the enjoyment of your favorite citrus when you “slice the fruit up and freeze it: frozen citrus is great as ice cubes for drinks.” The cubes also can serve as delicious and healthy frozen snacks for your entire family during the hottest summer months.