Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples, Part One

A Reminder From 1917

All of us who like to cook have cabinets and drawers and other spots chock full of spices, oils, vinegars and the like.  These pantry items - or kitchen staples - are so important to our culinary creations, so we should try to keep them as fresh as we possibly can.  The great thing about these staples is that they are there when you need them; the challenging thing about them is that you rarely buy one of them and then use it all up for one meal.

Heat and light are great things.  They are also great destroyers of kitchen staples.

In the next few posts, I will share what sorts of storage - as well as how to test for freshness - works best for a number of categories of kitchen staples.  

Let's start with oils, vinegars, soy sauces, and vanilla.

You know how on the cooking shows, the cooks have all of their oils and vinegars displayed beautifully on a lovely - usually stainless steel shelf above their six burner, turbo stove top?  Yeah - don't do that!  You'll be killing off those items faster than you can say, "Bam!".  

Here are some basic rules of thumb about these particular staples and the best ways to preserve them.

1.  Olive Oil - Once it is opened the common rule is to consider it at top form for about three months.  Always keep olive in a dark pantry closet or cabinet.  Unopened and stored correctly olive oil will maintain it's goodeness for up to a year.  To test olive oil for freshness, heat a teaspoon or so in a skillet.  If you detect a rancid odor, toss it, it's done.  Lastly, resist the large, usually well decorated cans of olive oil unless you really use a lot of olive oil.  The short shelf life makes the lower price not worth it in the end.

2.  Vinegar - this is one staple that has a very long shelf life.  The high percentage of acetic acid in most vinegars will prevent any harmful bacteria from taking up residence. It is a good idea to also store vinegar in a cabinet, away from direct heat.  If you have sediment beginning to build up in vinegar, just strain it out. It will be fine with or without the sediment. 

3.  Other Oils - Canola, Corn, Grapeseed, Peanut, and Vegetable oils can be stored in your pantry.  Sesame and Walnut oils must be stored in your refrigerator.

4.  Soy Sauce - if it is pasturized soy sauce, you can store it in your pantry closet.  If it is unpasturized, keep it in the refrigerator. 

5.  Vanilla - this flavoring has a very long shelf life.  If you make it yourself, and I highly recommend that you do, just remember to remove the vanilla bean when it has "cured" and has full vanilla flavor.  The beans, if left in the liquid, sometimes break down a bit.  Whether home or commercially made, vanilla should always be tightly capped and stored away from light and heat.

Next Time:  Flours and Dry Herbs

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