If you’re like a lot of people on the internet, you’re probably tired of people, governments, and disembodied voices telling you what to do. And to be fair, a lot of the things you shouldn’t put in your icebox are pretty self-evident.
You shouldn’t refrigerate pants (but should freeze them). You shouldn’t refrigerate a live mongoose. You probably shouldn’t refrigerate other refrigerators, because that’s wasteful.
But you know what? Since this list is potentially infinite, I guess we’ll save time and restrict ourselves to the foods many people think they should be refrigerating, but really don’t need to. Yes, that will be better.
Definitely Don’t Refrigerate…
There are some foods that are actively made worse by refrigeration. These are the items you should absolutely keep away from cold.
Refrigeration causes the starch in potatoes to turn to sugar, and while this might sound like a good thing, it gives them the wrong flavor. The skins will also darken prematurely while cooking, making them look less appetizing.
Here’s a weird one. You don’t have to refrigerate onions, but you do need to keep them physically separated from the potatoes. Spuds emit moisture and gases that will make your onions rot. Your best bet is to keep onions in the mesh bag they came in—they like air circulation.
Again, air circulation is key. Garlic bulbs will keep for two months without refrigeration, and if you keep them out of the damp air of the fridge you’ll avoid making all your other nearby produce smell like garlic. Some even say that refrigeration will make garlic sprout prematurely.
Is there anything more delicious and healthy than a ripe avocado? Avocado won’t ripen in cold conditions, so unless you need them to keep for awhile, you should let yours live outside the refrigerator until they’re ready to eat. There’s a popular legend suggesting the presence of the pit prevents browning, so if you only use half of an avocado, be sure to reserve the side with the pit.
Cold breaks down the cell walls in tomato flesh and causes them to become mushy and mealy. For better results, store them at room temperature and keep them out of direct sunlight, which can ripen them early and unevenly.
“I’m Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say, bananas have to ripen in a certain way.” So went the original Chiquita commercial from the 1940s. Now, we are not saying you should go and buy Chiquita brand bananas, but their refrigeration advice is solid.
Allow bananas to ripen at room temperature, and use your refrigerator when you want to slow the ripening process. Just be aware that refrigeration also happens to turn banana peels brown (though the interior is still unspoiled). Frozen bananas also make a great ice cream replacement for dieters.
Fresh melon—uncut, we should specify—is best stored on the kitchen counter where it can properly ripen and sweeten. Only after you cut up your cantaloupe (or whatever) into bite-sized bits should the flesh be refrigerated (but never frozen).
Peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries, and so on should be ripened at room temperature, stem-end down. Only after the fruits start softening slightly to the touch and begin to smell sweet should they be moved to the refrigerator. Shelf life is three to five days after that.
Try to eat your bread before it gets to the point where you need to chill it to stave off mold, because if you end up refrigerating, the loaf will get tough and less tasty. For this reason, a lot of people freeze bread. Freezing preserves the texture, but then you have to deal with defrosting it. And who’s got the the time to microwave a slice of bread when they’re rushing to catch a train in the morning?
It’s the same story with cookies and pastry. You can store them covered outside the fridge, and it’s true they won’t last quite as long, but refrigeration causes baked goods to go stale faster. Keep your cannolis on the countertop where they belong.
Not all hot sauces are created equal, but if it’s a vinegar-based hot sauce like Tabasco, you can almost always safely store it in the pantry for months on end. Cold weakens the flavor and changes the viscosity of the sauce, affecting the pour.
Once again the humid environment of a refrigerator is detrimental to the flavor of spices, and since most can be safely stored for years without refrigeration, there’s no benefit to cold storage at all.
Ugh. My family refrigerates honey and I’ll never understand why. Honey is one of the world’s earliest preservatives. It has a practically indefinite shelf life, and we’ve heard tales of archaeologists uncovering ancient Egyptian tombs with edible honey inside.
Don’t refrigerate honey. It’ll crystallize, and you’ll have to squeeze that stupid teddy bear even harder to get it out.
All-natural peanut butter does have to be refrigerated, because the peanut oil can rise, separate from the mash, and go rancid. Commercially processed peanut butter, on the other hand (like JIF and Skippy), can be stored for months without issue—even if the jar’s been opened already. But really, who can’t eat a jar of peanut butter in a month? It’s delicious, and good for you, too.
Nut oils (like hazelnut oil, mmm…) must be refrigerated, but for other types of oil you’re in the clear. Oils will become cloudy and harden when refrigerated, and while this doesn’t do lasting damage, you’ll need to wait for the oil to warm before it tastes right or flows properly again.
Maybe Don’t Refrigerate…
These are hotly contested. We’ve heard some pretty convincing stories of people storing these items at home without refrigeration, but you might want to keep them cool just in case.
Everybody stores apples in the fruit drawer, but that’s not entirely necessary. More importantly, it could reduce the amount of antioxidants in the fruit’s skin. Apples will keep for about a week outside the fridge, and depending on the variety they might last a bit longer inside—but whether the tradeoffs are worth it is up to you.
Go ahead and refrigerate your leftover iced coffee from lunch, but coffee beans and grounds should really be stored more carefully. Condensation created by the fridge or freezer can affect the flavor of the beans, and sensitive palates can detect the difference. For best results, store beans or grounds in an airtight container outside the refrigerator instead.
Certain organic eggs may be left out for a few days, as long as the shell is intact, but we’re not sure why you’d want to bother. You’ll get much better longevity out of a properly refrigerated egg, and there’s nothing smellier than a rotten one.
Personally, I keep butter in a French butter dish, which holds butter upside down and inside an air pocket underwater. The water creates an airtight seal, while the butter remains easily spreadable at room temperature. The USDA doesn’t really advise this, but it’s working out fine so far.
Again, despite the “Refrigerate After Opening” labels, you really don’t have to refrigerate processed condiments like ketchup and mustard. They’ll do fine right there on the kitchen table, just like the ones left beside the menus at the local diner.
Some people refrigerate salad dressings, some don’t. Since most dressings are oil-based, and we’ve already established oil’s longevity outside the fridge, they should be fine. Salad dressings that aren’t oil-based are usually made of processed goop, and those are dense with preservatives anyway. Use your best judgment, of course.
The “Refrigerate After Opening” warning on that bottle of Kikkoman is only there because they’re required to write it by law. The truth is, all the salt in the sauce is going to keep the stuff safe for months without refrigeration.
By Christopher Snow