Introduction With the price of fruits and vegetables constantly on the upswing, our monthly grocery budget often goes for a toss. We feel the pinch even more when, due to the humid weather which is generally prevalent in India, the fruits and vegetables we buy get spoiled easily. Subsequently we throw them away - naturally we do not want to eat things which have rotted away!
It is easy to blame the weather for spoiled fruits & veggies. In reality, though, what we overlook is (a) the fact that some produce just has to be consumed within a few hours or days of purchase and (b) we store produce carelessly in a higgledy-piggledy manner (see image below).
In order to both lessen the amount we throw away and at the same time ensure we eat in a healthy manner, we need to learn better storage techniques for fruits and vegetables.
Top 3 tips on how to correctly store fruits and vegetables
In the case of apples, you should keep them as they are in a bowl, with stems intact. Food scientists say that removing the stems encourages growth of bacteria. In the case of muli you need to cut off the green leaves at the top and store them separately away from the white part. This is to prevent the leaves from sucking up the vegetable's moisture.
(My mother's handy tip: Don't use the leaves when cooking the vegetable. Instead, tear off the leaves, discard the stem, wash & chop the leaves and use in dosa batter or dough for thepla/parathas. It tastes good!).
Here's a basic list of fruits and vegetables which emit ethylene:
Note: this is not a comprehensive list but includes what we mostly eat in India.
Given below are a list of commonly used fruits and vegetables with their names in the Hindi language & how to store them.
How to store Indian fruits
If you truly want to keep the doctor away, as the popular saying goes, do store these fruits in the right way! It is very common to place them in the refrigerator as soon as you buy them. Actually, while this is just fine there is no necessity to do so if you are going to eat them daily. Simply place them in an uncovered bowl in a completely dry place which is nowhere within sight of sunlight. They'll live just fine for about 15 days. Only if you are not going to eat them regularly should you put them in the refrigerator. If you are planning to be out of town and have not eaten them even after 15 days, then place them in a perforated cardboard box in the refrigerator.
Oranges (santra) and Sweet Limes (mosambi)Due to their thick skin, these citrus fruits do last quite long, sometimes even more than 15 days. However, it is best to ask your fruit vendor about how ripe they truly are. If they are over-ripe, they can spoil quickly even if kept in the refrigerator. It is ok to keep them in the open too, in a vessel or container with holes to allow for air circulation.
You absolutely must not keep bananas in the refrigerator. It causes a good deal of damage to the fruit if exposed to a highly chilled atmosphere. Instead, simply keep a bunch of bananas out in the open on your dining table or kitchen counter top. This applies both to the yellow bananas we eat and to the green unripe bananas (kacha kela) which we use as a vegetable.
Mangoes (aam) Popularly known as the king of fruits, India has a variety of mangoes from the regal alphonso to the humble kairi. Whatever the variety, they are mostly stored by vendors on a bed of straw in large wooden crates & then sometimes sold by the dozen in a cardboard box to make them look attractive. When you buy mangoes, they may not be fully ripened. It is best to leave them free to become mature. In my house, we tend to let them rest on loose rice grains & covered till they ripen. You can put them in the refrigerator once they are ripe & if you are not going to eat them right away.
Pears (nashpati) Pears tend to be a little unripe when you buy them so it is best to avoid putting them in the refrigerator right away. Instead, place them in a bowl in the open, but keep away from direct sunlight. Then, once ripened, shift the bowl to the refrigerator but do not mix them with non-ethylene-emitting fruits.
There is nothing like a cool nimbu sherbet on a hot sweaty day! We also squeeze a few drops on certain types of food. However, not using lemons for a long duration after buying is tough going for this sunny yellow fruit. The skin tends to become brown and the lemon tastes sourer after a week of neglect. So it is best not to buy them in bulk even though they are cheaper by the dozen unless you are going to use them regularly. Do not store them tightly packed together even in a bowl, but keep them loosely arranged. You can keep the bowl in the refrigerator, but remember that a lemon tends to catch the odour of foodstuffs inside pretty quickly so better to just keep them out at regular room temperature.
Grapes (angoor) What's not to like about a bunch of luscious grapes?! When storing these – whether green or purple – you should not wash them before storing. You can wash them just prior to eating. This is advised because if you wash them and then put them in the refrigerator, the moist grapes attract bacteria. Remember, too, to eat grapes within 7 days at least.
Pineapple (ananas) If you have a pineapple whole, then just keep it as it is with the base facing upwards. This is because the base is the heart of its sweetness & by placing it upward, you are helping in the spread of the sweetness. You can either keep it in the open or in the refrigerator but for not more than 2 days.
Figs (anjeer) These are one of the types of fruits which are the softest & most squishy. Don't make the mistake of stacking them one on top of the other in an airtight container or bowl. They are extremely finicky about moisture! The ideal way to store figs is to simply place them on an uncovered plate in a circular manner (not in piles) in the refrigerator. Figs must be eaten within 6 to 7 days as then they start rotting away.
Peaches and Plums You should put peaches in the refrigerator only when they have ripened to the fullest; otherwise leave them outside. Same with plums.
Strawberries You definitely should keep strawberries in the refrigerator. In India in many markets you will see vendors selling them in cardboard boxes with holes punched in them for air circulation. You can transfer them to a paper bag with holes when storing, but do eat them within 2-3 days of purchase.
Cherries Like grapes, a bunch of cherries should be washed only just before eating. In fact, it is best to eat them on the same day as you buy them or the very next day as they tend to become rotten very quickly.
How to store Indian vegetables The most common vegetables we eat are onions, potatotes and garlic. All these three should never be stored in the fridge. Nor should then by stored together (as in image below) because they tend to take on each other's smell and their own individual flavours get destroyed.
Read how to store them & other veggies in the right manner:
Onions (pyaj)It is tendency to bunch them together and store in a mesh bag. Actually the correct way to store them is unstacked because they need air circulation. Hence, just loosely arrange them in a bowl and cover and keep in a dark place where it is dry and cool.
Potatoes (aloo) Same storage advice as for onions. Make sure they do not have exposure to even a little sun as otherwise they will start sprouting!
Garlic (lahsun) Just keep them out in a dark place away from light. If you like to keep them peeled in advance, then store them in a closed container. However, in that case you should use them within 2-3 days as otherwise they become brownish and spoil fast.
Sweet Potatoes (meetha aloo) People foolishly put these in the fridge. Actually, this is harmful to them as they are delicate veggies. They simply need good ventilation so store them outside the fridge in a dark place. Also, you should use them within 7 days.
Spring onions (vasant pyaj) Untie the string which binds them and keep them in the refrigerator inside the vegetable crisper.
Tomatoes (tamatar) Technically tomatoes are a fruit but since we generally regard them as vegetables I have put them in this list. These don't really need refrigeration as they survive quite well for nearly 15 days outside. In fact, keeping them in the fridge lessens the flavor dramatically. Also, wash them if you must just before use & not earlier.
Green Tomatoes These tomatoes should be used within 2 days otherwise they tend to change colour. Just place them loosely in a bowl away from sunshine.
Cabbage (gobhi) Most people make the mistake of keeping cabbage in the refrigerator for weeks on end. While it is ok to keep it in the vegetable crisper of your fridge, you should not keep it for more than 5-6 days. It can last too if kept out in a cool place. However, the outermost leaves tend to shrivel quickly so instead of peeling them off and discarding them (what a waste!), use the cabbage quickly.
Carrots (gajar)Whether the long red ones or the baby orange ones, carrots remain fresh for a longer duration if you simply slice off the top parts before storing. You can wrap them lightly with a damp towel & then store them in the fridge in a closed container. Scrape off the outer skin only at the time of use.
Cauliflower (phulgobhi) Ideally, cauliflower should be used on the same day of purchase or the very next day so as to retain its maximum flavor. You can place them in the vegetable crisper in the fridge.
Cucumber (kakdi) There is no need to keep them in the refrigerator if you are going to consume them within 2 days. Otherwise wrap them in a small moist towel and then put them in the vegetable crisper.
Eggplant (baingan) This vegetable does not really require refrigeration. However, you should not wash them but just keep them loosely on a plate in a cool area.
Beans (of the green variety) These do not need refrigeration. You just need to place them in any container and put a moist cloth over them.
Lettuce leaves (known as salad leaves) These are commonly used in salads and if not used within a day should be wrapped in a moist tissue and put in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Okra (bhindi) and Ivy gourd(tendli)
You should eat these veggies within 2 days of purchase as otherwise they tend to blacken quickly. They can be wrapped in a dry cloth and then put in a closed container or left in the crisper till used.
Spinach leaves (palak) This is one bunch of greens which loves the cold! So by all means keep them in the crisper, but leave them exposed and not packed in any type of container.
Zucchini (tori)Both its uncut and cut version keeps for a few days outside the fridge. If you are not using them in about 3 days, then only you should place them in a cloth in the fridge.
Broccoli This bunch of greens, resembling a small bonsai plant, should not be crushed into a closed container or bag. Just keep it as it is in an open bowl or plate in the refrigerator. If not using within 2-3 days, wrap the bunch lightly with a damp (not wet) towel and then put them inside.
Mushrooms (kukurmutta) Note that mushrooms are not really veggies but a type of fungus. Nevertheless, they are generally classified as a vegetable. Mushrooms absolutely must be kept completely dry outside the fridge. Do not wash them till you actually use them.
Bell Peppers (shimla mirch or capsicum) Green capsicum generally has a longer storage life than red, yellow and orange ones. You can store all the varieties in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. They can be used within 15 days.
In addition to the above, we also consume a lot of sprouts and regularly use coriander leaves in cooking, not to mention occasionally mint leaves.
How to store sprouts It is very essential to put sprouts in the refrigerator as soon as you bring them home from the market. They love the chill and in this environment can live for over about 10 days too.
How to store coriander leaves (dhania patta) and mint leaves (pudina patta)
In Indian markets, these are sold in bunches with a thin string or rope tied around them. Remove this bind and chop off the roots. Then remove the leaves and store them in an airtight container, wrapped in a moist cloth or paper towel. In the case of coriander leaves, you should not throw away the stalks. You can wash and grind them to make chutneys. The stalks can also be used to make lemon soup.
Conclusion As you can see, it does not require rocket science to understanding how to keep your fruits and vegetables last longer without spoiling. A basic knowledge of what to keep out on the table or kitchen counter top, what to place in the fridge and how to store right is all that is required. With this basic knowledge comes a reduction in food wastage, not to mention less wastage of money!
Do you have any of your own tips to store fruits and veggies in the right manner? Share them in a response below.
Vandana is based in India with over 15 years experience as a freelance writer. Writing, no doubt, is her primary passion! Having learned the art of blogging from ISC, Vandana is enjoying the thrills of blogging, taking pleasure in sharing information & getting good pageviews at her various blogs.
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One of the most useful articles about saving tricks for fruits and vegetables. Do follow these tips and save space of the refrigerator. Well done madam.