|Whole foods need to be eaten fresh for the best flavour and nutrition. Natural foods contain no chemical preservatives, so their shelf life is shorter than for refined products.
Almost half of all food is wasted in North America so it is also important to develop good shopping and storage habits to help reduce this needless waste.
Where to shop
Natural food stores, bulk stores, buying clubs and some supermarkets are the best places to find fresh whole foods. Choose a store that has a commitment to freshness. If items on the shelves are dusty, this is a sign of slow turnover and perhaps a signal to shop elsewhere. Also check for expiry dates.
Many supermarkets are expanding their vegetarian and natural food selection, but their business model relies on a long shelf life. To achieve this, natural food products are often overly sweet, refined, and packaged. Or products may go off before being purchased. I once bought whole wheat flour from a supermarket that must have been sitting too long on the shelf. The muffins I made from it had a rancid taste.
For fresh fruits and vegetables, the best places to shop are farmers markets, produce stores, and the larger natural food stores that carry organic produce. Look for locally-grown produce. Not only does it tend to be fresher, it is also best for the environment as it does not require long distance shipping. Fresh produce also retains more nutrients. For example, spinach losses half of its nutrient content eight days after being harvested (see study).
Where to buy local & organic
Shop at a place that emphasizes freshness, only buy as much as you need, and store your foods properly.
Storing whole foods
Storing and ripening fruits
Most fruit (including avocados and tomatoes) should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Exceptions to this are berries, grapes, fresh figs, melons, pineapple, coconut and tangerines. Apples can be refrigerated or stored in a cool dark place.
To speed ripening, place fruit in a loosely closed paper bag. Leave at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. The paper bag holds in ethylene, a gas produced naturally by the fruit, which helps speed up the ripening process. Don’t use a plastic container as it traps moisture and air which causes spoilage.
Once ripe, eat fruits right away. You can also refrigerate ripe fruits for a few days, butkeep them separate from other veggies, as the ethylene gas they emit can speed decay.
Most vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator. A cold temperature slows respiration, but you don’t want to stop the breathing completely. Place items loosely in the crisper or in open bags to allow breathing. Don’t overcrowd. “The worst thing you can do is seal fruits and vegetables in air tight bags” says Barry Swanson, professor of food science and human nutrition at Washington State University.
Mushrooms should be stored refrigerated in paper bags.
Don’t wash fresh fruits and vegetables before storing. Fresh produce has a natural protective coating that keeps in moisture and freshness. Washing and scrubbing will damage the coating and speed up spoilage.
Produce will last longer when it is whole. When shopping, look for greens that have some of the stem intact. Don’t buy prepared salad greens or veggies unless you plan on using them that day. At home, don’t chop veggies and store the pieces for later use.
Root veggies such as beets, carrots and radishescan be purchased with their greens. For these items,cut off the greens once you get home to prevent the roots from going soft. Radish and beet greens are good in soup.
For greens, cut off elastic bands and damaged leaves before refrigerating.
Inspect your greens daily and remove any wilting leaves. Check your other produce and remove any rotting items immediately. One bad apple can spoil the bunch.
Don’t refrigerate garlic, cooking onions, winter squash, and potatoes. These items can be stored uncovered in a dark cool place, but try to use them up within a week or two.
Fresh ginger will keep for up to a couple of weeks in the fridge in a paper bag. Ginger also freezes well, either whole or grated. One of the best way to store ginger is to bury it in a small clay pot filled with sand.
Some vegetables can be stored for several months in a root cellar if certain criteria are met. The ideal cold storage room must be dry, dark and cool (7°C to 10°C). Basements, garages and cupboards in today’s homes are often not equipped to meet these three conditions.
For more information:
Vegetables: How to select, store and serve these healthy foods
Makes 1/4 cup
2 Tbsp tamari soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a container with a lid. Add items to marinate, close lid and shake. Let sit anywhere from five minutes to overnight in the fridge. Tofu can also be stored this way for several days.