To be honest, I’m a bit sensitive on the subject of fridges. They are a very personal space – like my spongebag, or my Google history. When a well-meaning visitor moves to open the door of mine – to helpfully fetch their own milk, perhaps – I feel myself tense. Will they be startled at how full it is, stacked with tubs and packets, or repulsed by the crustily greying pot of neglected sourdough starter festering in a dim corner? Perhaps they’ll judge me for the squeezy bottle of mayonnaise (calls herself a food writer!), or the sticky jar of some Asian condiment that’s been gently crystallising there since Ottolenghi’s second cookbook.
These days, we keep everything in the fridge – but my mother would have thought it pretty odd to chuck the cheese and the chocolate in there, next to the leftovers of yesterday’s roast and the bottles of silver-top. She’d be right, too: cheese prefers to breathe at a somewhat warmer temperature, around 10C, and chocolate becomes greasy and tasteless when chilled. We’ve lost our “frigucation”: a knowledge of what is best in and out of the fridge, opting instead for a rather prissy “just in case” attitude promoted by food manufacturers, who invariably suggest their products are refrigerated. As if anyone wants ice-cold ketchup on their sausages.
To meet this new need, fridge sizes have been rising steadily over the past couple of decades, and we’ve become obsessed by wardrobe-like American-style coolers.
With energy bills soaring, it could be time for a rethink.
We have got some of our fridge routines all wrong. Why is the bottom drawer invariably labelled as the salad drawer? It’s much better for meat storage, not only because it’s the coldest spot in the fridge but also the location means that meat juices (a source of food poisoning bacteria) can’t drip on other food.
Maybe we just need to buy food and eat it, rather than ram our fridges and cupboards with bags of salad and half-eaten jars. I’m off to have some bread and butter – neither of which has been in the fridge.
To fridge or not to fridge?
Bread: Keeping bread in the fridge makes the starch molecules crystallise, so the bread toughens and dries out – OK for toast at a pinch, lousy for sandwiches. If you don’t eat much bread, you’re better off keeping your sliced loaf in the freezer and toasting from there.
Eggs: Keep eggs in the fridge to extend their life, from around two weeks to two months. But cold eggs are useless for baking (they’ll curdle a cake batter) and chilling breaks down the natural seal on the shell, so once they’ve been in the fridge you can’t change your mind and leave them out instead.
Jam: Traditional jam keeps in the cupboard perfectly well, provided you use a clean spoon to dollop it on your plate - toast crumbs from your knife are prone to turning mouldy. That said, modern preserves with lower sugar contents will need keeping in the fridge, unless you are planning to finish the jar within three or four days.
Onions: Fridge temperatures can turn onions soft, so store them in the same way as potatoes - but in a separate cloth bag.
Bananas: Never refrigerate bananas as it will turn the skin a putrid-looking black. Better to freeze them in their skins and use in a bake.
Pet food: A controversial one – dried food definitely doesn’t need to be in the fridge, but open tins (properly covered) will last longer and smell less if kept cold.
Ketchup: Who wants cold sauce on their sausages? Keep it in the cupboard.
Herbs: Basil hates the cold, but other herbs stay perkiest wrapped in dry kitchen paper and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Mustard: Perfectly safe kept out of the fridge, but spice levels will fall, so if you like it hot, chill it.
Tomatoes: Never put firm tomatoes in the fridge as it stops the flavour developing and gives them a mealy texture. However, when they go squishy, the fridge will stop them going mouldy and give you another day or two to eat them up.
Potatoes: Fridges spell disaster for potatoes, as the cold turns the starches to sugars, making for soggy, dark roasties and cloying, gloopy mash. Store them instead in a dark, well ventilated, cool spot. 8-10C is ideal, but at least make sure they aren’t next to the radiator.
Nuts: Unroasted nuts keep perfectly well in the cupboard, but once they’ve been toasted they are prone to rancidity, so store them in the fridge. Long term? Any nuts will last for a year or more in the freezer.
Nut oils: If it’s not in the fridge, it’s almost certainly rancid. That goes for toasted sesame too, stir-fry fans.
Coffee: Never keep coffee in the fridge: it’s too damp, and may result in “off” flavours. The freezer can extend the life of whole beans, though.
The Daily Telegraph