Fridgophilia. Photo courtesy of cuchillosSS.
Food That Doesn’t Belong in the Refrigerator
El País: Comida que no deberías guardar en la nevera
By Mikel López Iturriaga, published February 29, 2012
One of the most common obsessive behaviors of our time is putting all food in the refrigerator. Even if the food item degenerates more quickly when submitted to cold, we send it there anyway, as indiscriminate as Stalin during the Soviet purges, just so the flies can’t have at it.
I hadn’t thought about this phenomenon until a longtime reader of this blog, Vincent Pla, told me about it. This good man wrote me an email about the “war against putting everything in the fridge” between him and his family. “Those victims of ‘the more, the merrier’ even put olives in the fridge. This weekend, I learned that a friend of mine even put her rice there. Uncooked rice that was still in the package.”
That’s when I saw clearly how strong this tendency is. I’d seen similar outrages in the homes of relatives and friends. I, too, am guilty: many times, I’ve abandoned myself to fridgerific vices out of pure mental laziness. What do I do if I don’t know how to preserve something I bought? I put it in the fridge. It seems to work for everything.
But there are most definitely acts of fridgophilia which should be considered crimes against gastronomy. The clearest case is the tomato. Cold damages this fruit’s internal membrances and changes its pulp into an insipid, doughy paste. It’s better to keep it at room temperature; if you have erroneously put a tomato in the fridge already, take it out now and leave it alone for a day before eating it: it will still recover some of its flavor. These aren’t my words but those of a sage of cooking science, Harold McGee.
Although nothing suffers as much as the tomato, summer fruits in general, like peaches, melons, nectarines, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers, don’t take well to the wintry environment of the refrigerator; their flavor and texture die at less than 10°C (50°F). I always keep them out of the refrigerator so they’ll remain whole and healthy. If possible, it would be better to buy smaller quantities so you don’t lose anything and break from the culture of monthly megapurchases at the supermarket. Where did this model come from? The United States. And what are the refrigerators like there? Monstruously big.
Tropical fruits don’t like cold weather at all, either. The avocado, for example: the best way to turn it into a green rock is to put it in the fridge even if it’s still hard. It’s better left in a dark, fresh place. Ditto for pineapples and bananas: according to McGee, low temperatures kill the enzymes that help them mature. This causes other enzymes to act more forcefully; the ones that cause cellular damage (ergo doughy texture) and the ones that blacken a banana’s skin.
There are also vegetables that can be and should be stored outside the refrigerator, like potatoes, onions, and garlic. Inside, the cold turns potato starch into sugar, changing the taste. The trick is to always keep them in dark places. I place these vegetables inside dark cloth bags that hang on my wall. They’re cheap and really functional.
Another very frequent mistake is putting bread and pastries in the fridge. Contrary to what you’d expect, they age more quickly there than they would in a bread box on the kitchen countertop. If you want to conserve them for more than a couple days, the best thing to do is freeze them in slices or small pieces and thaw them one by one inside the toaster or at room temperature. There is also no reason to put dry cheese in the refrigerator, assuming you consume it rapidly enough and keep it in a cool place in your home, wrapped in paper. Eating this kind of cheese right out of the fridge is gastronomic assassination, akin to killing a tomato.
Chocolate is another frequent victim of fridgophilia. Unless it has dairy filling, or it’s very hot, there’s no need to refrigerate it. If you did put bonbons or an open piece of chocolate inside, you would see a kind of whitish layer emit from them, a sign that their texture and flavor have been altered. It’s something like what happens to coffee, which is why some experts completely advise against storing that in the refrigerator. And if you want the Iberian ham you spent a fortune on to transform into the most vulgar of pork slices, there’s no doubt about where to put it. (Need I say more?)
Refrigerating cereal, beans, dried fruit, canned food (with the exception of anchovies, which need to be kept cold), pasta, flour, or sugar is a sign of something else: foolishness. There’s no need to do it. It’s a definitive sign of insanity, and I suspect Vincent’s friend already suffers from it.
About the Author
Mikel López Iturriaga is relatively well-known as the author of the gastronomic blog Ondakín. He has worked as a music journalist and at other posts for Canal+, El País, Ya.com, and ADN. He learned some things about cooking at the Hofmann School, but he still considers himself more an upstart than an expert.