By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine
I have a small kitchen that doesn't have a lot of storage space. Because of that, my refrigerator looks more like a pantry-a very full, disorganized pantry. After one of the shelves on the door broke off for about the 100th time under the strain of every condiment known to man, I decided to finally do something about it.
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Some items needed to leave the fridge. But what? After some research, I learned a few things that made me feel a little better about my fridge situation-amongst the chaos, there were indeed some foods that truly belonged. Here are 5 surprising foods you might want to refrigerate:
1. Natural Peanut Butter
Natural peanut butter is peanut butter in its purest form-in most cases it's just ground-up peanuts and maybe a dash of salt. Because of this, natural peanut butter acts a little differently than "regular" commercial peanut butter-in natural peanut butter, the oils from the peanuts can separate from the solids, something that doesn't happen with regular peanut butter thanks to the addition of hydrogenated oils-and you should treat it a little differently too.
If you don't plan on finishing your jar of natural peanut butter within a month or so, or if you live in a hot climate, consider refrigerating it. The oils in the peanuts can go rancid if it's not kept cool over a long period of time. If the label recommends refrigerating after opening, follow the instructions. (Also, if your peanut butter develops mold, toss it-because peanut butter is processed without preservatives, it's at high risk for mold, according to the USDA.) If you're concerned about spreadability because your peanut butter is hard from being in the cold refrigerator, let it sit out at room temperature for a bit before spreading.
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2. Whole-Wheat Flour
Sticking flour in the fridge may seem like a late-night blunder, but if we're talking whole-wheat flour, it may not be a bad idea. The wheat germ in whole-wheat flour can go rancid pretty quickly. Once opened, store your whole-wheat flour in the refrigerator or freezer for long-term use. A word of caution-whole-wheat flour has the tendency to pick up unwelcome flavors, so store it in a plastic bag or air tight container and avoid storing it next to anything with a strong odor, such as fresh onions or garlic.
Nuts are a great healthy snack option. Buy them in bulk and store them in your fridge (or freezer, if you want them to last even longer). The oils in nuts go rancid when exposed to heat, so unless you'll be eating them up within a month or so, they'll need to stay cool. The freezer is a great option: since nuts have very little water content, they never freeze rock solid and will last indefinitely stored there.
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If you use up your cooking oils quickly, you may not have to store them in the fridge. But if you buy oil in bulk or you have a few bottles, you may want to consider refrigeration. Most oils are fine unrefrigerated if you use them up within a month or two. But keep in mind that light, air and heat break down oil. Heat is especially problematic since people (myself included) love to store oil next to their stoves. Keeping certain oils in your fridge may cause a harmless "cloudy" appearance and/or cause them to thicken. Bringing them to room temp will solve this problem. Don't want to deal with it? Just keep a small portion of your oil in a container away from heat and light and store the rest in your fridge.
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Chances are you know someone who keeps butter out of the fridge to enhance its "spread-ability." But most people know that butter should live in the refrigerator-just maybe not where you think. That nifty little butter compartment on the door of your fridge is not the best place to store it. Opening and closing the door of the refrigerator can cause the average temperature to rise. The best place to store your butter is toward the back of your fridge where the temperature is more consistently cold.
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What "strange" foods do you keep in your fridge?
By Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.
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