It's tempting, especially during the summer months, to stash away as many groceries as possible in the fridge – after all, cool temperatures of 5°C (41°F) or lower help keep perishables fresher for longer, right?
In most cases, yes. The colder the temperature, the slower microorganisms will grow. But like the best of us on a typical morning in deepest winter, there are some foods that simply can't stand the cold.
These popular staples lose flavour, texture and freshness if they're exposed to the nippy environment of the fridge, and should ideally be stored alongside your tins and jars in a larder or cupboard, or left out on the counter top. Make a note of these eight foods that should never be stored chilled and free up some space in your fridge.
“You should never under any circumstances put a tomato in the fridge,” says food scientist Peter Barham. Sunshine-loving tomatoes loathe the cold and deteriorate rapidly when chilled, but according to a recent YouGov survey, 71% of people in the UK store theirs in the fridge.
Tomatoes produce savoury umami compounds, which give them their distinctive aroma and flavour. Chilling the salad favourite inhibits the activity of enzymes that create these compounds, impacting fragrance and flavour.
Cool temperatures also damage the cell membrane, creating an unpleasant mealy texture. Tomatoes should always be stored on the counter top at room temperature (around 20°C / 68°F).
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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) released a statement earlier this year warning about the dangers of storing spuds in the fridge. “When potatoes are stored in the fridge, the starch in the potato is converted to sugar. When baked or fried, these sugars combine with the amino acid asparagine and produce the chemical acrylamide, which is thought to be harmful.”
Potatoes sprout in damp conditions, and exposure to light can trigger the build-up of solanine, a toxin that turns the spud green, and can cause illness. The ideal place to store your potatoes therefore is a dry, dark larder or cupboard with adequate ventilation.
Super-refreshing on a hot summer's day, cooling cucumber is often stored in the fridge, but according to researchers at the University of California, temperatures under 10°C (50°F) actually cause damage.
Cucumbers develop what the experts describe as “chilling injuries” in the fridge – at low temperatures, the skin shrivels and pits, and the pulp turns mushy.
Store your cucumbers in a bowl on the counter top or in a cupboard if you can, and if you prefer them cold, pop them in the fridge an hour before you want to eat – this should do the trick without causing significant damage.
If you think that storing your bread in the fridge will prolong its shelf life, it's time to think again. In his seminal On Food and Cooking book – considered the bible of food science – Harold McGee stresses that bread should never be kept in the fridge.
The cool, drying environment rapidly dehydrates the loaf and changes its molecular structure, speeding up staling – you end up with stale, dry-textured bread.
Weirdly, freezing rather than chilling actually slows down this process, so either store your loaf in a bag or bread bin on the counter top or whack it in the freezer for later use.
Delicate Mediterranean herbs such as basil come from warm, sunny climes and have no time for the cold. The lower temperatures of the fridge speed up oxidisation, turning the leaves black and ruining the herb's heady scent and flavour.
Store your basil at room temperature on the counter top in a jar filled with water to prolong its shelf life and prevent premature discolouration.
Plant scientist Diane Nelson suggests blanching the herb in boiling water for a few seconds, then immersing in ice-cold H20 before drying the leaves completely – heat kills the enzymes that cause oxidisation, so this handy culinary trick should keep your basil vibrantly green for longer.
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The cold environment of the fridge mimics the growing conditions of garlic, so it's no wonder bulbs are prone to developing shoots if they are stored this way.
Unless you fancy planting the shooting bulbs to grow garlic greens, storing your garlic in the fridge is best-avoided.
Cool-ish room temperature with low humidity makes for the ideal storage conditions for garlic. An airy larder or cupboard is perfect, but try to keep the garlic away from foods that might take on its pungent odour.
The fridge may seem like the best place to put a melting bar of chocolate on a scorching summer's day. But you'd be better off eating it there and then.
Chocolate is sensitive to sudden temperature changes and can develop an unappealing white 'bloom' if placed in the fridge. The molecular changes that cause the bloom spoil the smooth texture and the chocolate can become unpleasantly gritty.
Chocolate readily assimilates odours, so it can absorb unpleasant smells as well as lose its smoothness if it's stored in the fridge. Ideally, keep your chocolate well-wrapped at cool-ish room temperature in a larder or cupboard, away from strong-smelling foods.
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Naturally antibacterial, honey lasts for ages when stored at room temperature in properly sealed packaging. There's really no need to squirrel away this sweet treat in the fridge – the cold temperatures won't do the honey any favours.
When chilled, honey tends to crystallise and turn gritty – it is still edible in this state, but many people prefer the smoothness of uncrystallised honey.
If you want to reduce the risk of your honey solidifying and going lumpy, always store at room temperature in a larder or cupboard.
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