Follow these simple, surprising guidelines to get a lot more life and flavor out of your favorite heart-healthy snack.
We know nuts are incredibly good for you. They’re an excellent source of antioxidants and fiber, pack plenty of nutrient-dense monounsaturated fat, and have even been shown to lower cholesterol, inflammation, and your risk of heart disease.
Walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, and the lot are obviously a tasty treat in trail mix, but their uses are never-ending. Sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on top of salads, fold walnuts into homemade bread dough or mix with oats for granola, or you can throw a handful of almonds and a pinch of salt into your food processor for some seriously delicious DIY nut butter.
Now that we’re covered what we do know about nuts, read on for some of the (unexpected) major mistakes many of us make when shopping for and storing them. Break these harmful habits and we promise your nuts will stay fresher, longer.
Mistake #1: Shopping the bulk bins
The biggest blunder of all = buying from the bulk bins at your grocery store. It’s near impossible to tell how often the shop is replacing these nuts, or how long they’ve been sitting out in the open air. According to Steve Lindsay, the Director of Quality Assurance for Diamond Nuts, oxygen is the number one enemy to any nut’s shelf-life. Nuts sitting in bulk bins are constantly being exposed to oxygen, compromising their freshness and speeding up the rancidity process. Your best bet for finding fresh nuts is to buy those that have been sealed in a bag—this will ensure freshness and prevent oxygen from slipping through.
One final word on bulk bins: As you’ve probably noticed when shopping, some people can’t help themselves and stick their bare hands directly into the bins to sneak a snack. This exposes the contents to oodles of outside germs and bacteria. Just saying.
Mistake #2: Storing them in the pantry
Contrary to popular belief, nuts should be stored in the fridge or freezer as opposed to the pantry. Why? Because nuts contain a high amount of unsaturated fat, a delicate type of oil, which makes them highly prone to going rancid. Spoilage is accelerated even more in the presence of light, oxygen, and—you guessed it—heat. Storing nuts (and seeds) in the fridge or freezer limits their exposure to all three of these, and will result in your nuts tasting less bitter and more flavorful vibrant for a longer period of time.
According to Lindsay, you can keep an unopened bag of shelled or in-shell nuts in the fridge or freezer for two years (!). And even if the bag’s been opened, shelled nuts should last an entire year and in-shell nuts will last about a year and a half.
All of this being said, if you’re going to use your nuts in the immediate future, it’s fine to keep them in a cool, dark spot in your pantry. Just make sure they’re in a super airtight container and plan to use within a couple of weeks.
Mistake #3: Paying too much attention to expiration dates
Expiration dates are problematic for many reasons, primarily because they’re merely suggestions or guesses about freshness, rather than hard-and-fast deadlines that mark when a food is no longer edible. Remember that the shelf life of nuts depends on three key factors: storage conditions, whether the package is opened or unopened, and whether they are shelled or unshelled.
Lindsay says that a good rule of thumb for maintaining optimal freshness is to think of nuts as produce rather than a packaged good. Just as you would with a bag of fresh spinach or a ripe tomato, give them a smell before you eat one. As nuts age, the rancidity will give them a “paint” smell. If you get any harsh or bitter aromas, toss them—otherwise, they’re probably still fair game. To further help extend shelf life, Diamond of California adds a hint of rosemary extract, a natural ingredient that helps preserve the nuts, to their products (and you can, too).