Storing produce sounds like a no-brainer: Hit the market, fill up an eco-friendly tote with rainbow-hued produce, and throw it all in the crisper or in a stylish fruit stand. Not so fast. Ever wonder why carrots go limp or leafy greens start to wilt within 24 hours of coming home? You’re not alone.
Here, chef John May of Piedmont in Durham, North Carolina, divulges his best tips for properly handling and storing vegetables. Storage containers, he notes, are "life-saving," as "oxygen is the enemy in almost all counts." May’s rule of thumb is to always buy whole vegetables over cut ones, as they will generally keep longer.
Leafy greens aren't fond of being bound together by rubber bands. This "causes the fibers to break down in the leaves and become mushy and lose their nutritional value," May says, adding that he puts a half pound of leaves in a gallon-size bag, pokes holes in the bag and stores them in the fridge—but not the crisper. “The crisper typically stores things at too low a temperature, which kills a lot of the nutrients,” he says, noting that the drawer should be considered a last-ditch effort to extend the life span of veggies you’re not planning on using right away.
Roots with greens attached—carrots, beets—should be stored like leafy greens. "If you have a potato or a root without greens, leave them in a paper bag or a box in a dark area of the house," he notes. "If they are damp, they can rot or sprout."
May maintains that corn is best fresh off the stalk. "Blanch it quick and keep it in an airtight plastic storage container until you want to grill it or cream it, or all of the beautiful, aromatic sugar turns into starch,” he says.
If you buy mushrooms with the fungal root intact from the farmers' market, put them in the crisper in a paper bag you’ve lined with a wet paper towel; this will help prevent them from drying out in the fridge. But, May adds, “if you buy them from the store and they’re in a plastic bag already, leave them in the bag” and put the bag in the crisper. In this state, they probably won’t have a fungal base—so no worries about their nutrient supply.
Never toss tomatoes in the refrigerator—not even in the crisper. "They lose flavor and texture almost immediately after coming down to 40 degrees," May says. "The same membranes that break down in the fridge also break down when stored at room temperature with the stem side up—so store them upside down on the counter or eat them quickly."
Anything with a Pit
Calling all avo fans: Putting all rock-hard produce with a pit in a paper bag on the counter will help them ripen. If they're ripe and you can't use them right away, store them in a bowl in the fridge. But, May warns, "Much like apples, if one is slightly rotten, it will give off ethylene gas and rot the rest."
Store fresh herbs (attached to the root) in water on the counter—just fill a cup or jar with water and stick the cut sides in, much as you would flowers. Herb packs from the grocery store, however, can live in the fridge. “Wet a paper towel and place herbs on it, then wrap them,” he suggests. “It keeps them fresh and bright green.”
“A whole head of broccoli or cauliflower will do well in a plastic bag in the fridge,” he notes. The same goes for already-chopped florets.
Jenn Rice is a food and travel writer constantly traveling for cheese, tacos and kouign-amann pastries. Follow her on Instagram at @jennricewrites.
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